PA governors help celebrate the 300th anniversary of William Penn’s death

Gov. Tom Wolf and four former governors — Tom Corbett, Ed Rendell, Mark Schweiker and Tom Ridge — convened at Pennsbury Manor for the first-ever Pennsylvania Governors’ Panel

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

An open discussion: On Saturday, Sept. 29, Gov. Tom Wolf and four former governors — Tom Corbett, Ed Rendell, Mark Schweiker and Tom Ridge — convened for the first-ever Pennsylvania Governors’ Panel, which the public was invited to attend. Source: William Thomas Cain

As the 300th anniversary year of William Penn’s death quickly comes to a close, representatives of Pennsbury Manor, his former Bucks County estate, wanted to end it with a bang. What better way to celebrate the first governor of Pennsylvania’s legacy than to welcome some of his most regarded successors?

On Saturday, Sept. 29, on the picturesque Pennsbury grounds, Gov. Tom Wolf and four former governors — Tom Corbett, Ed Rendell, Mark Schweiker and Tom Ridge — convened for the first-ever Pennsylvania Governors’ Panel, which the public was invited to attend.

The event kicked off at 1 p.m. as more than 100 guests gathered under a tent constructed outside of the Manor. State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson welcomed everyone present, while Bill Pezza, president of the Bristol Borough community organization Raising the Bar, moderated the panel. According to Sarah Rudich, managing director at Pennsbury Manor, things couldn’t have run more smoothly.

“The weather was beautiful and the governors were just so extremely knowledgeable and engaging of both the audience and each other,” she said. “It just went smashing. It really did.”

The discussion revolved around four topics — education, environment, economy and governing — all of which Penn held near and dear to his heart. For each topic, Pezza read a Penn quote, and the governors were asked to share their experiences as it pertained to the subject.

The panelists shared insights from their terms in office and discussed some of the ways in which they approached the challenges and opportunities they faced in governing such a historically complex and diverse state.

“In their answers, which were completely freeforming, they were able to, in some cases, reflect back on how William Penn inspired them, and then also share from their personal policies and actions that they took, how they fit within the topic being discussed,” Rudich said.

The panel ran for three hours, which also included the reading of a letter penned by former governor Dick Thornburgh, who was unable to attend due to scheduling and health issues.

“He was still part of the program,” Rudich said.

Though time didn’t allow for an in-depth Q&A with attendees, they were invited afterward to mingle with the governors, who happily signed autographs and took photos. Individual tickets for the event cost $185, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the William Penn Legacy Scholarship Fund. Tying into Penn’s passion for educating future generations, the fund will pay for the transportation costs of Title I schools to visit Pennsbury Manor.

In conjunction with the panel, Pennsbury Manor unveiled a limited edition exhibit in its visitors center, which will remain open until Oct. 20. On display are never-before-seen election memorabilia that date to the mid-19th century. From uniforms and political pins to executive china, all items have ties to the state’s former governors and came from the Pennsylvania State Archives and State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg explicitly for the exhibit.

For Rudich, who began planning Penn’s legacy year in 2017, it’s bittersweet to see the celebrations come to a close, but she can look back with pride on all she and her staff accomplished. For example, in March, guests were able to steal a glimpse into the work of Penn when The Great Law — Pennsylvania’s first governing documents drafted by him in 1682 — was on display for the first time in history.

“When we talked to the staff last summer about focusing on Penn and his legacy and we started putting together the framework of what our special exhibit and special programs would be for this year, it’s been surreal to see that all come together. That’s been through the support of the Pennsbury Society board of directors, Pennsbury staff, the Pennsbury volunteers, as well as our community partners and businesses,” Rudich said. “So it’s been a surreal experience. We are thrilled to have been able to highlight William Penn and Hannah Penn in a way that people had never seen before, and bring visibility on his legacies that he installed here in Pennsylvania.”

Still, the year isn’t over just yet. Though the Governors’ Panel was the culmination of large, public programs, Rudich mentioned a few smaller events to look forward to, including Pennsbury’s annual meeting and a second round of filming with Chef Walter Staib, who will be back next month to shoot scenes for season 10 of A Taste of History.

Pennsbury Manor is located at 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville. For more information, visit pennsburymanor.org. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com