Honorary Alumna Ethel S. Kochel passes away at age 94

Widow of longtime Behrend leader Irvin H. Kochel received honorary degree in 2013

ERIE, Pa. — Ethel S. Kochel, widow of longtime Behrend leader Irvin H. Kochel and an influential campus presence in the college’s early years, died Thursday, July 19, at the age of 94.

Ethel and Irv moved to Erie in 1954 so that Irv could become administrative head of what was then called Behrend Center, leaving the same position at Harrisburg Center, now Penn State Harrisburg. Behrend had just begun to offer associate degrees at the time of the Kochels’ arrival. By the time Irv left in 1980, to become vice president for administration at the University Park Campus, they had overseen transition to a four-year college, the addition of on-campus housing and academic buildings, and explosive growth in enrollment, from fewer than 100 students to more than 1,800.

The Kochels made Behrend the heart of their professional, social and family life; they raised their three children in a small house on campus, attended most student events together, and hosted all college functions.

“It was very rewarding and exciting and fun to be part of every one of those 26 years,” Ethel once said.  

In 2007, Jeffrey Kochel, class of 1971 in agriculture, the oldest of the couple’s children, commissioned the creation of a landscaped dwarf conifer garden and patio to honor the behind-the-scenes roles his mother played in growing the dirt-road Behrend Center into a four-year college with a national reputation for academic excellence. The patio and garden are adjacent to the Irvin Kochel Center, home of the college’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, “the perfect way to bring these important pieces of her life together for recognition,” Jeffrey Kochel said at the garden’s 2007 dedication.

In 2013, Ethel was named an Honorary Alumna of Penn State, an honor reserved for individuals who did not graduate from the University but have made significant contributions to its reputation and prestige.

“Ethel was a tireless advocate for Behrend, both during Irv’s administration and after their retirement in Erie, when she was an active member of Behrend committees and helped to host social events,” Ralph Ford, chancellor of Penn State Behrend, said. “She was a gracious individual whose influence on Behrend’s student-centered campus culture cannot be underestimated.”

Ethel’s commitment to Behrend students extended to her philanthropy: She and Irv created the Irvin Kochel Leadership Scholarship, the Irvin and Ethel Kochel Trustee Scholarship, the Ethel and Irvin Kochel Scholarship for International Study, and the Irvin H. Kochel Lion Ambassadors Fund, which supports the student organization founded by Irv.

Calling hours will be observed at Dusckas-Taylor Funeral Home, 5151 Buffalo Road, Erie, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31. The funeral, conducted by Ethel’s grandson, Pastor Jason Young, will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the funeral home. Burial will be at Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery. Memorial gifts may be made to Penn State Behrend Athletics.