Thelma T. Price was her given name. But to those who knew her, she was “Mom.”
Price, 88, died Jan. 8. Friends and former colleagues gathered Saturday at State College Assembly of God Church to remember the Penn State administrator and civil-rights advocate.
“There is an extra light in heaven right now,” said Candace Thurman, who said Price was her mentor when Thurman was struggling. “When I lost my husband, I lost my mind, and she put an arm around me and didn’t even need to say anything because I knew she’d be there. She was a lady full of life and God was sent another angel.”
W. Terrell Jones, Penn State’s vice provost for educational equity, said Price was a leader in many ways.
“She will be remembered for her strong advocacy for minority student concerns,” Jones said. “Her tireless energy, vision and courage is the epitome of leadership.”
Price joined the Penn State staff in 1964 as assistant dean of students at the New Kensington campus. She was named acting director of the Equal Opportunity Program at the University Park campus in 1971 and became the first black woman appointed assistant vice president for student affairs in 1972.
She was elected State College chapter president of the NAACP in 1977, said Harold McKenzie, head pastor at Unity Church of Jesus Christ.
Price retired from Penn State in 1986, but continued to be a large part of the State College community.
She worked with the State College Area School District, Stand for Children, Housing Transitions and Mom’s Kitchen. She was also on the board for CentrePeace and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Board.
Geraldine Garcia bobbed her head to the beat of the gospel music as a slide show of photographs crossed the screen.
Loud laughter filled the auditorium at images of Price sticking out her tongue, and a picture with her wearing a crown.
“That’s what we’ll all remember. A woman full of life,” said Garcia, who was a student at Penn State in the early 1980s. “I remember she was an advocate for us and going out of her way to help. I was new to town, out of my element and the first of my family to continue my education, and when I felt lost, she was there. She taught me family didn’t have to be blood related.”
Among those who remembered Price for her leadership, hospitality and vibrant attitude were grandson Carl E. Proby Jr., Tom Poole, Pastor Bonnie Kline-Smeltzer and Penn State trustee and Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier.
“Anyone who knew her has been changed for the better,” said Poole, vice president of administration at Penn State.
Penn State’s Essence of Joy choir sang “Precious Lord” during the service.
A Thelma “Mom” Price Scholarship is being set up to award Penn State students who are committed to academics and have financial needs.