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Armenti firing tarnishes former professor's legacy

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
Leslie Parkinson of California, a retired art professor at California University of Pennsylvania, says she was left ply in debt because the university has paid her only $10,000 of the $160,000 former President Angelo Armenti Jr. promised her to develop eight stained glass windows. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Leslie Parkinson of California, a retired art professor, looks at one of the stained glass windows she created for California University of Pennsylania at her home on Jan.4, 2013. . Parkinson quit working on this piece after former president Dr. Angelo Armenti left the school. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Stained glass supplies sit unused at the home of Leslie Parkinson of California, a retired art professor at California University of Pennsylvania, on Jan. 4, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Retired art professor Leslie Parkinson of California shows a receipt for money for supplies issued to her to create stained glass windows for former university president Dr. Angelo Armenti on Jan. 4, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

With a handshake and promise of a $160,000 payday, Leslie Parkinson got the job of crafting intricate stained-glass windows that would stand as her legacy at the university where she taught art for nearly three decades.

But the former California University of Pennsylvania professor's legacy is in pieces, and her payday nowhere to be found.

The deal on which she shook with ousted university President Angelo Armenti Jr. left her with $25,000 in debt.

Parkinson, 73, a breast cancer survivor, speaks of the painstaking detail in the Pennsylvania wildflowers that adorn eight 9-foot panels Armenti commissioned to hang in Grand Hall, part of the school's Old Main administration building.

That was before the State System of Higher Education Board of Governors fired Armenti in May 2012 amid criticism of his free-spending ways.

“I was confident (the project would be completed) until the rumors (about Armenti's firing) started,” said Parkinson, who created four similar windows at a cost of $5,000 each for Grand Hall in 1996.

But then, university officials “told me they had no idea how they were going to pay for these windows.”

University spokeswoman Christine Kindl said Armenti “acted wholly without authority and without funding, in regard to the stained-glass windows for Old Main. However, the university understands that Parkinson was acting in good faith when she made them.

“We intend to reach out to Ms. Parkinson in that same spirit and hold good-faith discussions to bring this matter to a resolution,” Kindl said.

Until that discussion takes place, Parkinson waits in her two-story home, steps away from the Cal U campus, where crates of stained glass have taken over her front porch. An unfinished window covered by a tablecloth lies on her dining room table.

Speaking from his home in Chesterbrook, Chester County, Armenti confirmed that he asked Parkinson to make the windows and intended to pay her with private funds, not state money from the university's accounts.

A single $10,000 payment that Parkinson received was drawn from a Foundation for California University of Pennsylvania account, according to a Feb. 25, 2010, check stub with the notation “costs for materials” that she produced during a recent interview.

The private, nonprofit foundation functions independently of the university. Its mission is to solicit money for eight major areas — scholarships, the Honors College, the Character Education Institute, internships, the convocation center, the School of Business and Professional Studies, an endowed lecture series, and academic and program support, according to the group's website.

One day after Armenti was fired, a state audit criticized the school's practice of moving student housing fees into the foundation's account, claiming the fees should go into the dormitory system to keep down students' costs.

Armenti said it would have been appropriate to use foundation money for Parkinson's project.

He said when donors give to the foundation, “some (dollars) are left with discretion for the president,” although he said “I'm not sure” if the $10,000 payment to Parkinson came from that discretionary money.

The foundation's executive director, Denise Smith, did not return numerous calls.

The State System of Higher Education, which oversees state-owned universities, does not oversee spending of foundation money since the organization is a separate entity from the university, system spokesman Kenn Marshall said.

None of that matters to Parkinson, who wants to get out from under the debt she incurred to make the windows.

She obtained a credit card specifically for project materials and charged $35,000 for stained glass pieces, lead, solder and a grinder. The $10,000 payment cut the debt, but with nearly 20 percent interest on the card, Parkinson said she doesn't “think I'll live long enough to pay them off.”

She regrets losing time and energy to the project.

Each window began with a sketch. From there, Parkinson ground hundreds of pieces of glass to fit her design and soldered them together. Each window takes three to four months to complete.

Parkinson said she cannot afford an attorney to fight the university.

And since she accepted the $10,000 payment, she's not sure whether she could attempt to sell the windows to someone else.

“I never had any inkling that (Armenti) was going to be forced out of the university,” she said. “I trusted him.”Parkinson even presented Armenti and his wife Barbara with a token of her appreciation — a framed stained-glass panel.

“I was thrilled my eight windows would be displayed, and I'd leave my legacy there,” Parkinson said. She finished four windows but stopped working on the fifth when Armenti left. “Why should I keep going?” Parkinson said. “It makes me angry. I did these in good faith.”

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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