"A Consummate Storyteller"

Longtime Penn Stater editor Donna Clemson was a dedicated journalist and beloved family matriarch.

Photo John Black and Donna Clemson

AS HER FAMILY remembers the story, one of Donna Symmonds Clemson’s editors at the Centre Daily Times “frequently berated” the young reporter for an insufficient use of commas. One day, Clemson ’55 Com had heard enough: She slid a blank piece of paper into her typewriter and proceeded to fill it with commas. When the page was full, she yanked it from the machine, marched to the editor’s desk, threw it down, and announced, “Here! Put them wherever you want!”

“Those of us who lived with her get a chuckle from stories like this,” says her son Chris Clemson ’79 Eng. “People always knew where they stood with Mom.

”That was true throughout her life, and particularly during her nearly 40-year career as a writer and editor, including the 23 years she spent at the Alumni Association. John Black ’62 Lib, who hired Clemson (they’re pictured together, above) in 1970 to be his assistant editor at what was then the Alumni News, remembers her as “a sharp, friendly, and fun-loving person, but all business in her work. She was a talented writer, an incisive editor and reporter, and a consummate storyteller.”

A native of Bellefonte, Pa., Clemson majored in journal-ism at Penn State, then began her career at small newspapers in Meadville and Huntingdon—where she once interviewed future First Lady Pat Nixon on a train during a whistle-stop campaign tour—before joining the CDT in 1957 and spend-ing a decade at her hometown paper.

Clemson returned to her alma mater in 1967, serving as news and business adviser for the Daily Collegian. Chris says that working with college students during that time of dynamic cultural change was “eye-opening” for his mother, and that she was energized by the interactions. Not that being around young people was new to her: Even as she progressed in her career, Clemson and her husband, Frank, had five children. “And she worked the whole time,” Chris, the oldest of his siblings, says proudly. “She’d have a baby, take a few weeks off, and get right back to it.”

In 1970, Clemson came to the Alumni Association, where she worked as assistant editor before taking over as editor-in-chief of the recently renamed Penn Stater in 1975. She held the position for 18 years, expanding on the magazine’s staff size, page count, freelance budget, and use of color. Among her most memorable contributions was the magazine’s July/August 1989 issue, in which she dedicated 27 pages to an exhaustively reported history of “the Black Experience at Penn State.” Despite administrative pushback, Clemson saw the issue through.

Clemson retired in 1993, but she and Frank never left Bellefonte. In retirement, they refurbished their 1860s Victorian home and opened it as a bed and breakfast, which they ran for nearly 20 years. Clemson exemplified civic pride, volunteering for the Bellefonte Museum, serving as a charter member of the town’s tourism commission, and helping design the Lamplighter Tours of mysterious local sites each fall. She also served as an alumni adviser to her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and as president of its State College alumni group. “She always had her finger in some kind of interesting activity,” Chris says. “She didn’t like to just sit around.”

Clemson died Jan. 31 in Bellefonte of colon cancer. She was 87. She is survived by Frank, whom she married in 1956; her children Chris, Leslee Torsell ’82 H&HD, Drew, Angelique ’92 H&HD, and Kirk ’95 Bus, as well as 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.