Two anniversaries in 2017 commemorated the connection between Bloomsburg University and former president Francis B. Haas. One was 90 years since his hiring as principal of the newly designated Bloomsburg State Teachers College and the other 50 years since the dedication of the building named in his honor. Haas is best remembered for guiding the college through the Great Depression, serving 18 years as state superintendent of public instruction, and devoting his entire life to education.
Francis Buchman Haas was born June 6, 1884, in Philadelphia and earned a teaching degree from the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy in 1906. He spent the next 14 years in the public schools, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Temple University in 1913. Haas began working in the State Department of Public Instruction in 1920, earned his M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1922 and a Doctor of Pedagogy from Temple in 1925. That year he was appointed state superintendent.
Two years later, January of 1927, another superintendent was named, and just three months later, when the Bloomsburg State Normal School was looking for a new principal, Haas was the unanimous choice. He was praised in the Morning Press newspaper as possessing, to a high degree, “the combination of professional, administrative, and executive skill of which great educators are made.”
For the next 12 years, Haas broadened and expanded Bloomsburg’s physical campus, academic curriculum, and relationship with the town. The new training school, Ben Franklin Hall, was dedicated in 1930, along with a laundry building (Simon Hall). Later construction came from federal money financed by New Deal programs: a recreation field that opened in 1936, tennis courts, and in 1939 Centennial Gymnasium, Navy Hall, and a shop building.
During his tenure, the teachers college started to develop specialties in education. The first was a commercial department founded in 1930 under Harvey A. Andruss. It offered a four-year course for training teachers to educate students intent on a career in business and was the forerunner of the College of Business. Five years later, Haas added the second new program, special education, which developed into the current Department of Exceptionality Programs.
For community outreach, Haas inaugurated the Rotary-Kiwanis-College night dinners, held yearly to bring community leaders to campus. Alumni became more involved thanks to the annual Homecoming celebrations begun in 1928. The largest single event to bring the college, alumni, and community together was the 1939 Centennial Celebration, commemorating 100 years since the college’s founding.
Haas resigned as president in August 1939 when he was reappointed state superintendent. He was missed at Bloomsburg because of the respect he had won and his ability as an organizer and builder. Francis Haas died Feb. 28, 1966, at the age of 81. But the building that would honor his legacy was already under construction. As early as 1930, Haas dreamed of a much larger campus, one that would include a separate auditorium to replace the one in Carver Hall.
With state funding approved, construction began in July 1965 and finished in August 1967. The college now had a $1.2 million facility with a seating capacity of nearly 2,000. Haas Auditorium was dedicated Oct. 12, 1967, when Dr. Andruss announced the building would bear the name of the former president. Within four years, it became the Francis B. Haas Center for the Arts, recognizing the center’s role in promoting art, music, and theatre.
Since then, several renovations have occurred in Haas. In the mid-1980s, an acoustic shell and a new sound system were placed in the auditorium, paid for with a donation by Marco and Louise Mitrani, for whom the hall was named. The stage and lighting were renovated at that time and the seating replaced in 1996. The latest major work on the Haas Center, completed in 2008, was a $7.9 million project that provided an addition to house the music program and renovations to the interior. For 50 years, the Haas Center for the Arts has acknowledged the place that art and the performing arts have in society, named for an individual who helped to shape Bloomsburg University for the better. •