Ben Novak, founder and first president of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, was recognized with the “Friend of the Mountain” Award at Mount Nittany Night on April 4, 2014 by MNC board member Jeff Dietrich. Tom Shakely filmed Dietrich’s remarks (available here) and the full text of his remarks appears below.
Jeff Dietrich, MNC board member:
No one can properly recall the long tale of Mount Nittany without uttering the name of Ben Novak. Ben has lived the Penn State experience to the fullest. He was student body president, assistant dean of students, president of the Lion’s Paw Alumni Association, and a University trustee. But perhaps the most significant and lasting Happy Valley legacy of this U.S. Army Bronze Star recipient is his love and tireless dedication to Mount Nittany’s beauty, and for telling her story.
During the 1980s, when the moment of opportunity came to purchase hundreds of acres of the Mountain’s most visible land, Ben was equipped with both a vision and the passion that led to the formation of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, and the nearly miraculous feat in the early 1980s of raising about $120,000 in little more than a year. Indeed, it was thanks to Ben’s critical negotiations with landowner and previous “Friend of the Mountain” recipient Wilhelm Koggelman, that the Mount Nittany Conservancy and its supporters were able to seize that moment. As Ben tells the story, since the Mount Nittany Conservancy was still just a dream during the negotiations, the deal was done on a handshake between Ben and Willy. During the adventure, Ben played a central role not only in organizing and directing the group’s fundraising efforts, but also appealing personally to the State College community and wider Penn State alumni groups. Having himself been enchanted by the inherent “magic of the Mountain,” Ben recognized that the path of necessity ending in donor’s pocketbooks, led through the heart and imagination. He made time to speak directly to every school classroom, civic organization, campus group, and alumni function to share the legend of the Mountain and Princess Nittany for the Mountain that bears her name.
Ben had to be a bit of a rebel to do this. As he has said, and I quote, “I started this when nobody believed we could raise the money. I went against the leadership of my organization in Lion’s Paw, the University administration, and many people in the town who thought it was a fool’s errand. I was banking completely on the emotional attachment of alumni, students, and townspeople to preserve the sacred of the Mountain in its natural state. I bet everything on that, and it came through.”
Ben continues to tell the story of the Mountain today, and so we are very pleased this evening to honor Ben Novak, who so richly deserved to be called “Friend of the Mountain.”