Wilkes University Announces the Passing of Dr. Francis J. Michelini

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Dr. Francis J. Michelini

-1925 to 2019-

Michelini was the second President of Wilkes College from 1970 to 1975

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“We’re all in this boat together.”

– Dr. Francis J. Michelini

Wilkes University mourns the passing of Dr. Francis J. Michelini, who served as the second President of Wilkes College from 1970 to 1975.

Known as “Dr. Mike” to generations of former students and professional colleagues, Dr. Michelini passed away on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 surrounded by his family at the Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill. Born Nov. 9, 1925 in Clifton, N.J., he was the son of the late August and Angeline (Marchetti) Michelini. 

Dr. Mike’s early college years at Seton Hall College were interrupted by military service during World War II in the Army Air Corps. He served in the Rhine Campaign in the European Theatre of Operations as a radio operator with the 9th Air Force and 3rd Army.  Following his discharge, he returned to Seton Hall where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, earned his Master of Science degree in Biology from the University of Delaware, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Michelini was the first Wilkes president to ascend from the academic ranks. He joined Wilkes in 1955 as the third full-time faculty member in the biology department. In 1963, he became dean of academic affairs, where he would leave his mark in the development of programs and majors.

After becoming president, Dr. Michelini helped to ensure the University’s survival after the devastating flood caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Using a boat owned by the University, Dr. Mike pitched in and rescued Wilkes-Barre residents stranded by the flood. The driving force behind what was known as ‘Operation Snapback,’ Dr. Mike brought together the campus community to assist in recovery efforts and ensure that campus was ready for classes in the fall of 1972. His direction of the recovery efforts of his college earned him a number of awards from sister institutions and recognition from the United States Congress.

In 1975 he was asked by fellow presidents to serve as the President of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities, an organization supported by 80 independent colleges in the Commonwealth created to represent the public policy interests of those institutions and their students. His service in that position earned him recognition from state and federal associations in the form of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities “Sheepskin Award” for exemplary service to Pennsylvania higher education, and the “Henry D. Paley Memorial Award for Outstanding Advocacy Service to American Higher Education” awarded by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. 

His professional representation of the Pennsylvania Colleges was recognized by numerous awards from his colleagues and seven honorary degrees from various colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Since 1992 the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania awards the “Francis J. Michelini Award for Outstanding Service” to individuals who have distinguished records of service to higher education in the Commonwealth.

He served in two appointed capacities by Governor Milton Shapp on the Governor’s Science Advisory Committee and the Pennsylvania Science and Engineering Foundation. He also served as Chairman of the Washington, D. C. based State Associations Executive Council, and as a Board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Following his retirement, he was appointed by Governor Tom Ridge to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education and later reappointed by Governor Mark Schweiker and as Chair of the Council of Higher Education of the State Board.  Governor Edward Rendell reappointed Mike and he continued as Chair of the Council of Higher Education until his term ending in 2012. 

In 2000 he was appointed by the Secretary of the Army to the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. He served two terms on the Board where he chaired the Educational Policy Committee and served two years as Chairman of the Board of Visitors.  He was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award by the Secretary of the Army.

On Nov. 10, 2015, Wilkes celebrated Dr. Michelini’s legacy by dedicating the residence hall at 80 West River Street in his honor. During this ceremony, the AFROTC Honor Guard presented the colors in recognition of Dr. Michelini’s service to his country in World War II. The “Michelini Greenhouse” on the roof of Wilkes University’s Cohen Science Center is also named in his honor.

Mike was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Anne Marie (Sterner) Michelini and by a brother August and a sister Lucia.  He is survived by three daughters, Michelle Hardiman, Lisa Spengler and Lucia Michelini; grandchildren Erin Crank and husband Brent, Steven Hardiman and wife Kyla, Elizabeth and Jeffrey Spengler; great grandchildren Emmett and Emerson Hardiman Crank.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 12 noon on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, 310 Hertzler Road, Mechanicsburg, Pa. Viewing will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon on Tuesday at the church. Burial with military honors will take place at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Mechanicsburg, Pa.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Wilkes University Archives in memory of Dr. Michelini.  Donations may be sent to Office of Advancement Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766 or online by visiting www.wilkes.edu/give

Dr. Mike was a frequent visitor to campus and regularly attended events, often traveling in his bright red sports car. Dr. Mike made a lasting impact on Wilkes University and the entire Wilkes-Barre community. We extend our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to members of the Michelini family. A memorial service on the Wilkes campus is also being planned with details forthcoming.

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