The gala on June 1 will also honor Robert A. Mugford ’58 and Tara Mugford Wilson as the inaugural recipients of the Chairman’s Award.
Wilkes University will celebrate its legacy of educating first-generation college students at the 2023 Founders Gala on Thursday, June 1. Now in its ninth year, the gala will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Westmoreland Club, 59 S. Franklin St. in Wilkes-Barre.
Proceeds from the event support the First Generation Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarship funds to students who are the first in their family to pursue a four-year degree. Established in 2014, the fund has raised over $4 million.
Family is the theme of this year’s gala, with two notable Wilkes families being honored.
The President’s Medal
The highlight of the event is the presentation of the President’s Medal to the Ralston Family. The President’s Medal is bestowed annually on the individuals whose personal and professional lives reflect the highest aspirations of Wilkes University.
The Ralston family’s nearly 80-year connection to Wilkes started with the late George Ralston, affectionately referred to as the “Father of Wilkes Athletics.” George served as dean, athletic director, coach, professor and mentor to generations of Wilkes students and student-athletes for 60+ years.
George met his wife Helen at Wilkes, and she earned her music degree from the University in 1952. Helen would regularly appear in Wilkes and community stage productions and would often lead in the singing of the alma mater at university events. She used her degree to give vocal lessons to students out of her home. For nearly 75 years, she was a soloist at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Wilkes-Barre, a congregation to which she continues to belong.
The four Ralston sons, David ’69, John ’79, Tom ’80 and James ’88, were “born Wilkes Colonels.” Three generations of Ralstons earned degrees from Wilkes, spanning from 1952 to 2014. Tom Ralston is a long-standing member of the Wilkes alumni association and board of trustees, using his passion for Wilkes and knowledge of the University to help shape the campus and experience for others.
The Ralstons serve as true examples of what it means to be a Wilkes Colonel through their leadership, mentorship and volunteerism at the University. The heart of their campus spirit is best represented in the facility that bears their name, the Ralston Athletic Complex.
In addition to their four sons, there are five grandchildren: Breanne ‘12, Alyssa ‘14, Nancy, George and Shane, and three great grandchildren. Helen Ralston, 97, resides in Wilkes-Barre. George Ralston passed away in 2007 but lives eternally in spirit of Wilkes University.
The Chairman’s Award
This year marks the introduction of the Chairman’s Award, presented to individuals who have made a positive impact upon their profession or community and in the spirit of the mission of Wilkes University. The inaugural recipients are Robert A. Mugford and Tara Mugford Wilson of Power Engineering.
Power Engineering is a family-owned mechanical construction firm specializing in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, humidity control, refrigeration and process pipe projects in the commercial, industrial and institutional arenas. Bob Mugford started as a sales engineer at Power Engineering in 1965, purchasing the company and becoming the organization’s board chair in 1979. Mugford continues to consult as owner and board chair. A first-generation college student, he earned his associate degree in engineering from Wilkes College in 1958 and went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State and earn his professional engineering license in 1967. Bob joined the Wilkes board of trustees in 1995 and, in 2011, was named trustee emeritus.
Tara Mugford Wilson succeeded her father as president of Power Engineering in 2016. She has served on the Wilkes board of trustees since 2020. A leader in the local community, Mugford Wilson received the 2019 Athena Award for her community service and professional excellence. In 2022, she became the first woman to serve as chair of the Luzerne Foundation. Mugford Wilson is also the owner of Shooze Contemporary Boutique in Kingston.
Through the leadership of the Mugfords, the team at Power Engineering Corporation has helped transform the Wilkes campus for more than four decades. The company was a partner on the construction and renovation of some of the most notable buildings on campus, including the Henry Student Center, Chase Hall, Stark Learning Center, Breiseth Hall, the Cohen Science Center and the Karambelas Media and Communications Center.
Bob Mugford resides in Dallas with his wife Cathy. In addition to Tara, they are parents to Jennifer Necessary, a graduate of the inaugural class of the Wilkes Nesbitt School of Pharmacy, and Susanne Reeves. Mugford Wilson is a graduate of Wyoming Seminary and Drexel University. She resides in Dallas with her companion, Dan Petrishin, and her children, Robert and Alexandra Wilson. In addition, Bob and Cathy are grandparents to William and Catherine Necessary and Robbie, Olivia and Jackson Reeves.
For more information about sponsoring or attending the Founders Gala, click here or call (570) 408-4302.