e-Newsletter of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary | February 15, 2013 Twitter Facebook

Priscilla Payne Hurd dies at 93

Priscilla Payne Hurd in 1999.

Hurd was the first woman to chair the Moravian College Board of Trustees

Priscilla Payne Hurd, the first woman to chair the Moravian College Board of Trustees (1999-2007), a board member since 1974, and a well-known and revered figure on campus, has died at age 93. Whether interacting with students or conferring with fellow trustees, she exemplified the credo she wrote more than four decades ago: “No one is greater than the service he renders the world.”

Born in Chicago in 1919, Priscilla Payne Hurd traced her commitment to service to childhood visits to Hull House, which provided social and educational opportunities for Chicago’s underserved. She was greatly influenced by Hull House co-founder Jane Addams. “Jane Addams was ahead of her time, and I was in awe of her,” said Mrs. Hurd during a 2008 interview.

She graduated from the Madeira School, a private boarding school for girls near Washington, D.C., in 1935, and was a 1942 graduate of Finch College and the University of Chicago. Her interests led her to the New York School of Radio Technique, from which she graduated in 1943. In the 1950s, she produced and directed a weekly radio show, “UN Calling You,” from Lehigh University. In addition to her work in radio, she was a columnist for the Bloomington Indiana Tribune.

Mrs. Hurd’s lifelong devotion to learning was demonstrated by her steadfast service to the Moravian College Board of Trustees since her appointment in 1974. At Moravian, she created the Priscilla Payne Hurd Center for Music and Art, the Frank E. and Seba B. Payne Gallery, and the Priscilla Payne Hurd Chair in the Arts and Humanities. In 1999 she was elected the first female Chair of the Board in Moravian College’s history.

During her tenure as Board Chair, Mrs. Hurd spearheaded major improvements in the College’s infrastructure and programs, including construction of the new academic complex and townhouse-style student residences, and a campus-wide renovation of signage and landscaping. She helped launch the Comenius Scholarships for outstanding students, and in 2006 she established the Ervin J. Rokke Endowment for Student-Faculty Research at Moravian.

“This is a sad day for Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary. I am not aware of any individual other than Benigna or Nicholas Zinzendorf who singlehandedly has had such a profound influence for good at Moravian,” said Christopher M. Thomforde, president of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary, after being informed of the news.

“She has altered the institution by her remarkably generous philanthropy, and her astute prudence, wisdom, and courage. Beyond her influence on the organization of Moravian College, her presence among us has been a tremendous encouragement. Over the years, she has challenged us, admonished us from time-to-time, nurtured us, and inspired us as a group. She cared deeply about the institution and its people. She will be profoundly missed by all those at Moravian whose lives she has touched.”

Her leadership has made a profound and lasting difference in the life of Moravian College and its students, faculty and staff for nearly four decades. Hundreds of students, faculty members, and other members of the Moravian community turned out to honor her on her 80th birthday in September 1999. Upon her retirement from the Board of Trustees in October 2007, Patrick McDermott ’08, past president of United Student Government, characterized Mrs. Hurd’s impact on students. “She has demonstrated herself as being one of the most caring, passionate, and generous people to lead Moravian. Students have benefitted beyond measure from these admirable character traits of hers. She represents the charity and passion that every Moravian student should aspire to attain in their lives.”

“Mrs. Hurd has been an amazing advocate for the faculty especially with regard to expanding programs for leadership and research,” said Stacey Zaremba, professor of psychology. “Her generosity has helped create an enhanced learning environment at Moravian that has expanded opportunities for students and faculty members to conduct research. The number of students in our SOAR program (Student Opportunities for Academic Research) has increased dramatically as a result.”

“The generous support she provided has profoundly impacted how we teach our students,” said Kay Somers, professor of mathematics. “Her insightful, no-nonsense leadership of the Board has helped us progress, while her gracious personal style of taking an interest in individuals, asking insightful questions, and supporting faculty, staff, and students is very much appreciated.”

“Priscilla Payne Hurd has made a profound and lasting difference in the life of Moravian College by her remarkably generous philanthropy and leadership,” said Lynn Trodahl Chynoweth’68, chair of the Board of Trustees. “For her tireless work and unwavering dedication, Mrs. Hurd was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Moravian College in 1993 and recognized as an honorary alumnus by the Alumni Association. The Board of Trustees formally designated the College's campus on Church Street the "Priscilla Payne Hurd Campus" in 2001, and named the new academic complex in her honor the following year. The Hurd Integrated Living and Learning facility (The HILL), located on the Hurd Campus, also honors Mrs. Hurd’s transformational leadership at Moravian College. In 2012, The Priscilla Payne Hurd Society (donor group) was established in recognition of her exceptional leadership, service and philanthropy to the college.”

Mrs. Hurd’s commitment to service extended well beyond the Moravian campus. She was the Lehigh Valley’s most generous philanthropist. In 1991, she became the first woman to chair the board of trustees of St. Luke’s Hospital, having served on the board since 1982. Since 2008, she served as chair of the National Museum of Industrial History board of trustees; she also was a trustee of the Frank E. Payne and Seba B. Payne Foundation.

Mrs. Hurd was the recipient of numerous awards for her service, including the YWCA’s Golden Laurel Award; the Rotary Club of Bethlehem’s Paul Harris Fellow Award; and the Allentown Arts Commission’s Arts Recognition Award. In 1996, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce established the Priscilla Payne Hurd Award to recognize the impact and influence of an individual on the enhancement of life in the Bethlehem community through the arts, education or health care. She was awarded honorary degrees by Moravian College, Lehigh University and DeSales University.