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Hillman Foundation helps fund Ridge Reading Room

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rendering of Ridge Reading Room & Gallery

Mercyhurst University will move forward with plans to construct the Ridge Reading Room and Gallery in the university’s Hammermill Library, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation of Pittsburgh.

In October 2013, Mercyhurst announced the gift of The Thomas J. & Michele Ridge Collection, a substantial archive that documents the Ridges’ lifetime of community service. The collection spans Tom Ridge’s military service in Vietnam through his years at the first Secretary of Homeland Security and also features the historic papers and ephemera from Michele Ridge’s service as First Lady.

Given the collection’s magnitude, Mercyhurst has spent the past several years receiving, organizing, processing, and preserving the various elements of the collection under the direction of full-time archivist Katelyn Quirin, MLIS.

In order to make the archive accessible to students, faculty and the public, Mercyhurst is planning renovations to the library to create the Ridge Reading Room and Gallery. All told, the project is estimated at $800,000 and is expected to feature a rotating exhibit of the major documents and three-dimensional pieces in beautiful new display cases. In this space (see rendering of proposed design), Ridge scholars will be able to access original documents from the collection for primary research, and once made digital, there will be a terminal for public use for researching the collection’s contents.

“On behalf of Mercyhurst University, I want to express my sincere thanks to the Hillman family for their generosity, which will help create an exceptional environment for telling an all-American story that deserves to be shared for generations to come,” said Mercyhurst President Michael T. Victor. “Governor Ridge’s story is one of a western Pennsylvania boy who was born in Pittsburgh, raised in public housing in Erie, went on to study at Harvard, defend his country as a decorated military veteran, and ultimately serve as Pennsylvania’s chief executive before becoming our nation’s very first Secretary of Homeland Security.”

According to Caleb Pifer, vice president for external relations and advancement at Mercyhurst, Henry Hillman and his late wife, Elsie, have been great supporters of the Ridges for decades. This marks one of the few times that Henry Hillman has invested outside of Pittsburgh, where his generosity is widely know. Elsie was a dear friend of Gov. Ridge and supported his every campaign. Her foundation gave the Ridge Collection at Mercyhurst $50,000 before her death.

In fact, a recent Forbes magazine story states: “Henry Hillman has continued to pour millions of dollars into his foundation, which funds projects in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Hillman followed his father into the family business, Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical, in 1946. When his father died in 1959, he bought out his 5 siblings, sold off the company's assets, and reinvested in real estate, private equity and venture capital. He was an early investor in both private equity firm KKR and California venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Elsie, Hillman's wife of 70 years and a former Republican national committeewoman, passed away in August 2015 at age 89.”

The Thomas J. and Michele Ridge Collection at Mercyhurst University gratefully accepts all tax-exempt donations to this project.  For information please visit our secure website at