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Hagen to receive honorary degree, address Class of 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thomas B. Hagen

Thomas B. Hagen, a distinguished business and civic leader for more than 50 years, will receive Mercyhurst University’s highest honor for achievement, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, during the university’s 88th Annual Commencement on Sunday, May 22, at Erie Insurance Arena. The honorary degree recognizes Hagen’s lifelong commitment to community leadership and his unwavering dedication to public service to the greater Erie community and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In addition, Hagen will deliver the commencement address during the 2 p.m. proceedings, the first time in recent history that the remarks have not been offered by a representative of the university.

Hagen currently is chairman of the board of the Erie Insurance Group, where he began as a part-time file clerk in 1953. He retired 40 years later as chairman and chief executive officer of the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in Erie, which celebrated its 90-year anniversary in 2015.

“As Mercyhurst begins the celebration of its own 90th anniversary, we wanted to do something special to commemorate our history,” said Mercyhurst University President Michael Victor, who is presiding over his inaugural commencement as the university’s 12th president. “Mr. Hagen’s noteworthy career and his many contributions and achievements at the local, state and national levels, are noble examples for all Mercyhurst University students, past and present, to emulate. It is with the deepest admiration and appreciation that we honor him."

Like Mercyhurst’s longstanding commitment to its founding Sisters of Mercy, Hagen understands the value of history and preserving an institution’s traditions and the legacy of its founders, said Victor, a man himself steeped in the importance of tradition.

Long identified with community development and historic restoration, Hagen has been honored numerous times for his efforts.  Most recently, on Aug. 29, 2015, the campus of the Historical Society of Erie County was designated the Thomas B. Hagen History Center. And, on Oct. 22, 2015, Hagen was awarded the highest honor for historic preservation in Pennsylvania, “The Otto Haas Award,” from Preservation Pennsylvania.  He is the award-winning author of “The Historic Tibbals House 1842, Erie, Pennsylvania.”

“I am humbled to not only have the opportunity to deliver the keynote speech to the Mercyhurst Class of 2016, but receive this honorary degree,” said Hagen. “As these graduates embark on their bright futures, I hope that they dedicate time to give back to their communities. 

“I would like to thank President Victor and the Board of Trustees for the honor bestowed upon me. It is a privilege to be associated with Mercyhurst, an institution that celebrates a rich liberal arts heritage while being recognized for excellence and innovation.”

In addition to his role at Erie Insurance, Hagen is also chairman of the board of Custom Group Industries, the collective name for the three Erie-based corporations where he has been an owner since 1997: Custom Engineering Co., Venango Machine Co., and Lamjen, Inc.

From 1995 to 1997, Hagen served as Pennsylvania’s 28th and last Secretary of Commerce and, upon departmental mergers, became the first Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in the administration of former Governor Tom Ridge.

Besides the boards of Erie Insurance and Custom companies, Hagen serves on the boards of numerous other organizations, including the Erie Community Foundation, Jefferson Educational Society, the Chautauqua Foundation and vice chair of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.  He is past chairman of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, past chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, past president of the Pennsylvania Society, co-founder and first chairman of Team Pennsylvania Foundation and past president of the Erie Philharmonic.

Throughout his lifetime, he has amassed many awards, including the Charles and Katherine Scalise “Community Service Award” from Erie-based Housing and Neighborhood Development Services (HANDS) in 2013, the “2009 Outstanding Citizen Award” from the Erie Chapter of Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System, and the “2009 Tocqueville Award” of the United Way of Erie County in honor of his lifelong commitment to advancing the common good in Erie County and throughout Pennsylvania.

A retired U.S. Navy Captain, Hagen served on active duty during the Cold War as supply officer of the Atlantic Fleet destroyer USS Harwood DDE-861 and on reserve duty with the logistics staff of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, for a total of 30 years of service. In 2011, he was named the 41st “Distinguished Alumnus” of the Navy Supply Corps School by the Supply Corps Foundation and the Chief of the Navy Supply Corps. He is a past president of the former Erie Council of the Navy League of the U.S.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Hagen was raised in Erie, where he attended public schools and graduated from Strong Vincent High School. He attended Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and in 1988, received the Penn State “Alumni Fellow Award.” Hagen graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from The Ohio State University, where he was a Griffith Scholar, president of the Insurance Society and treasurer of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. In 1981, he received Ohio State’s “Alumni Citizenship Award.”

A week before Hagen is slated to be honored at Mercyhurst’s graduation, he will represent his late wife, Susan Hirt Hagen, who will be honored posthumously with Wittenberg University’s highest award, their Medal of Honor, during Wittenberg’s commencement on May 14. Mrs. Hagen, who died June 15, 2015, was an alumna of Wittenberg, a member of its Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1998 and was named Trustee Emerita in 1998. Like her husband, Mrs. Hagen was a prominent community leader and philanthropist. In 2011, they both were recipients of the “Governor’s Patron of the Arts Award” from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.