About the Board and Advisory Council

Jean Searle, Co-President

A long-time self-advocate and a force within the disability rights movement, Jean has experienced the trauma of institutionalization first-hand.  Encouraged by advocates and friends, Jean moved out to assisted living arrangements in 1984, with the help of an agency in Philadelphia.  Jean has been employed with both the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) and the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, where she has been for more than 15 years.  Believing it is imperative that the lessons embodied in the Pennhurst campus remain as an example for the future, Jean has become a driving force within the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.

James W. Conroy, Co-President

Graduating cum laude from Yale University in 1970 with a BA in Physiological Psychology, Dr. Conroy began his career doing research on the impacts of the Developmental Disabilities Act of 1970.  He received his MA in Sociology/Program Evaluation and Ph.D. in Medical Sociology from Temple University in 1992.  While at Temple University, he was the Principal Investigator and designer of the Pennhurst Longitudinal Study, the largest study ever done up to that time on the topic of moving people with developmental disabilities from institutions to small community homes.  Since then, Dr. Conroy has directed more than a dozen similar longitudinal studies in other states.  He has been responsible for more than 250 formal research reports to government agencies and foundations, as well as more than 30 articles in scholarly journals and 10 book chapters.

His works have been publicized on CBS 60 Minutes, ABC Nightline, public television, public radio, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times.

J. Gregory Pirmann, Senior Vice President

Greg is a life-long resident of Pennsylvania, born in Philadelphia.  He was employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's Office of Mental Retardation for 37 1/2 years, beginning his employment at Pennhurst State School and Hospital in 1969, shortly after his graduation from Villanova University.  During his seventeen years of employment at Pennhurst, Mr. Pirmann served as a caseworker, unit manager, special assistant to the superintendent and as the Director of Planning, Evaluation and Development.  Mr. Pirmann was the Director of Planning, Evaluation and Development at Embreeville Center from 1986 through 1990.  He spent the remainder of his career at the Southeast Regional Office of Mental Retardation in Philadelphia, focusing on the areas of risk and incident management.  He retired in June, 2007.

Judith Gran, Esq. Secretary

Judith Gran, Esq. is a partner in Reisman Carolla Gran LLP, a firm in Haddonfield, NJ with a national practice in disability law.  She represented the Arc of Pennsylvania and the plaintiff class in Halderman v. Pennhurst during the implementation phase of that litigation.  She has represented institutional residents in cases that resulted in community inclusion and the creation of comprehensive community services systems in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Illinois, Montana, Tennessee, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Ed Goldman, Treasurer

Ed has been a life-long advocate for persons with a developmental disability and their families.  While starting his career at the The ARC of Philadelphia, his first visit to Pennhurst was the moment that forged his commitment to end the need for institutions and has spent his professional life creating community alternatives.  He also introduced Bill Baldini to the conditions at Pennhurst, and this led to Bill's award-winning documentary Suffer The Little Children.

While Pennsylvania's Commissioner of Mental Retardation in 1971, Ed promoted the principles of community integration and inclusion as the basis for all state services and redrafted state laws, regulations and funding guidelines to be consistent with those principles.  He designed and created the first statewide community living program and family support services in the nation.  He also spearheaded the implementation of the first Right to Education Federal class action lawsuit so all children with a disability would receive a free appropriate education and, together with Governor Milton Shapp, signed the Consent Agreement.  This provided the model for the eventual passage of national legislation, P.L. 94-142, now called IDEA.  Ed has also been the executive director of local ARCs in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut; special full-time consultant to the Directors of the California Dept. of Health and Dept. of Rehabilitation.  While living and working in New Zealand, headed a major planning effort for the New Zealand government together with volunteers, parents, professionals and elected officials that led to a renewed emphasis on community based disability services and the closure of the local residential institution for persons with an intellectual disability

Mel Knowlton 

Mel Knowlton, PAR’s expert Policy Consultant, is one of the Commonwealth’s most respected and consulted experts in intellectual disability and autism.  Mel’s lifetime of commitment to people with disabilities began professionally as a vocational trainer working with individuals with intellectual disability in Minnesota.  He quickly became a vocational workshop supervisor, then becoming the first Residential Director at Eastern Nebraska Community Office of Retardation (ENCOR) in Omaha, Nebraska.  ENCOR was respected as the nation’s first community to develop a comprehensive community-based service system.  His work and reputation in Nebraska led to him being recruited to PA where he led groundbreaking efforts to develop community residences, early intervention services, employment services and help write the first Medicaid waivers for Pennsylvania.  Through his extraordinary career he was a protégé and peer of many of the greatest leaders in the ID/A reform movement as he worked with luminaries such as Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger.  His leadership in the PA Office of Developmental Programs helped the Commonwealth close state institutions moving to a community based system, establish family support programs, prevent abuse and neglect and enrich the lives of thousands of Commonwealth citizens with ID/A.  His rich knowledge of the ID/A field and his fervent belief in community, integration, self-advocacy and family empowerment continues to help PAR members develop extraordinary services and supports.

Ellen Tierney

Ellen is currently serving as vice president for Pennsylvania TASH.  She is also the parent of a young man with a disability.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Neuville, Board Member

Elizabeth "Betsy" Neuville has over 28 years of experience as a human service worker, administrator, agency director, service evaluator, educator, and personal advocate, as well as extensive experience in designing and developing supports for very vulnerable people, meaningful quality measurements, and extraordinary employee development programs.  She is the Executive Director of the Keystone Institute, which is the values-based training organization of Keystone Human Services.

She began her work with vulnerable people in 1986, as a support worker in a small community home for three men who had recently left an institution - and has continued her commitment to personal human service ever since.  In 1988 she was hired by Keystone to help 20 people leave institutions and establish themselves in their home communities in Lancaster County.  She spent her first year with those twenty people and their families, planning and envisioning new lives liberated from the institution, and walking with them as they entered their new lives and began to craft a more positive future.

Betsy served as Executive Director of Keystone Human Services of Lancaster for 13 years, designing and directing supports for adults and children with developmental disabilities and/or mental disorders.  She has assisted over 200 people to leave institutions and establish themselves as valued and contributing members of their communities.  Equally important, she has been involved with the closure of several large institutions, and she established the use of person-centered processes to assist people to gain a vision of full, rich, community lives. Betsy developed a reputation for successfully supporting people who many others had given up on, and has mentored a number of passionate change agents to carry on this work.  She consults, partners, and teaches extensively, both within Keystone and externally.

Betsy has worked extensively with the ideas of Normalization and Social Role Valorization, and provides training and consultation both nationally and internationally.  She is fully accredited by the North American Social Role Valorization as a senior trainer of SRV.  She has taught SRV and Passing in Canada, across the United States, Ireland, Holland, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Romania, and the Republic of Moldova.  She studied under the mentorship of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, the developer and foremost proponent of Social Role Valorization, and has, in turn, mentored and supported a generation of people committed to personal human service to others.  She remains closely personally connected to people who are vulnerable, and holds particular interest in the historical treatment of people with disabilities.

Betsy and her husband Thomas live in New Holland, PA, and have two children.

Janet Albert-Herman, Borad Member

After reading an article about the Preserve Pennhurst project in Philly.com news, Janet, a board member of both The Arc of Pennsylvania and The Arc of the United States, immediately sought involvement.  Her interest seemed natural, coming from over 30 years of disability advocacy including the opportunity to monitor a variety of segregated and community based facilities.  Her findings, as well as statistical research lead to numerous oral and written testimonies to government officials and community groups.  Janet comes well equipped with an advocate's historical knowledge of the disability movement and what society did to people by isolating and segregating them from their communities.  She will represent The Arc's interest in this endeavor, "to ensure that we never forget the people who lived and died there and that we never go back".  The Arc is the world's largest community based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Janet resides in Berks County, PA. She has five children, including a son with Down syndrome, who is included in all aspects of community life.

Dr. Dennis Downey, Board Member

I earned by PhD in United States History from Marquette University in 1981, where I studied with the late William D. Miller.  Since that time I have taught at Millersville University, where I am now a Professor of History and Director of the University Honors College.  My research and teaching specialties cover the history of American violence, and American social and cultural history, especially 1870-1920. I have a developing scholarly interest in the history of disabilities and social thought.  Over thirty years I have had a role in a variety of professional and community organizations, and I have received several awards and citations. I served as President of the Pennsylvania Historical Association from 2005-2007.

In addition to more than thirty scholarly articles and essays, I have published some sixty-five book reviews.  I am the author or editor of six books:

Mark Friedman, Ph.D.

 Mark Friedman, Ph.D. is currently the CEO of Blue Fire Consulting,   providing technical assistance to disability organizations on consumer   empowerment, disability rights, and technology.  He is the former     Executive  Director of the Middle Tennessee Advocacy Center advocating   for people with disabilities living in the community who used to reside in   state institutions.  Dr. Friedman served as a volunteer founder and   subsequent state coordinator of Speaking For Ourselves, an award winning, self-advocacy organization in Pennsylvania.  He served as the Vice-Chairperson of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.  He worked for the Federal Court implementing the Pennhurst court order. He received his Ph.D. degree in the area of Organizational Leadership from the Union Institute and University.

Mary B. Schreiner Ph.D.

Mary Schreiner has been connected to persons with disabilities since the late1970’s when she was part of the training of community agency staff who would serve the recently-dispersed Pennhurst residents.  Since that time, she has worked in various roles with adult services and special education to develop programs and relationships that honor the lives of individuals with human differences.  Since completing her doctorate in Special Education at Penn State University, Dr. Schreiner now works as an Associate Professor of Education at Alvernia University in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Elliott W. Simon, Ph.D.

 Dr.  Simon is a licensed psychologist with over 40 years of experience as a   clinician, researcher and administrator in the field of intellectual and   developmental disabilities.  A graduate of Emory University with a Ph.D. in   Psychology, Dr. Simon completed his postdoctoral work at The Pennsylvania   State University in the College of Human Development.  Clinically, Dr. Simon   specializes in individuals with intellectual disability and co-occurring behavioral   health disorders and/or genetic syndromes.  He is the past Executive Director of   Research and Quality Improvement at Elwyn and served as the curator of its   archives and museum.  Research interests include developmental disabilities   and  psychiatric disorders, particularly behavioral and cognitive profiles of genetic syndromes and the history of intellectual disability.  Dr. Simon has published on a wide variety of topics related to intellectual disability and has been a speaker at both regional and national conferences that include the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services, TASH, The Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference and the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed.


Advisory Panel:

  • Nathaniel Guest, Founding Board Member

    Nathaniel first discovered Pennhurst in 1993, writing in the Pottstown Mercury that the historic campus must be preserved. Fifteen years later, after gross neglect by the state and a dubious transfer to private ownership that now pushes the site toward oblivion, he again took up the charge, founding Preserve Pennhurst with the intention of establishing an international museum of conscience on this unique, beautiful and meaningful space. Nathaniel is a 1994 graduate of Pottsgrove High School (Montgomery County, PA), a 1998 magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). Currently, he is a JD candidate at the Temple University School of Law (Philadelphia, PA) and a masters candidate in historic preservation planning at Cornell. In addition to preservation causes, Nathaniel is active with the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County, PA
  • Gary Blumenthal

    Gary Blumenthal, PAR’s Vice President for Strategic and Special Projects, began his lifelong career as an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities when he left his job teaching American government to become a legislator in the Kansas State House after his brother, Steve, was denied services. During his eleven-year tenure as a legislator, Gary wrote key disability legislation including the Ks DD reform Act, the Mental Health Mandatory Insurance Coverage Law, the Kansas Transition Act and others. As a result of his work chairing the National  Developmental Disabilities Task Force for the National Conference of State Legislatures, Gary was appointed as Executive Director of the President’s Council for People with Intellectual Disability by President Bill Clinton. He most recently served for over ten years as the President and CEO of the Massachusetts-based Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and was critical in securing a 24% rate increase for developmental disability services in Massachusetts while also serving as member of the Presidentially appointed National Council on Disability under President Barack Obama. Gary joined PAR as Vice President for Strategic and Special Projects in 2017, and represents PAR on the ANCOR Government Relations Committee and as the Chair of the ANCOR Grassroots Advocacy Committee. Gary and his wife Liane, live in Mechanicsburg, with their three boys and Liane’s dad.
  • Liz Coppola, Advisory Board Member

    Liz graduated magna cum laude from Villanova University (2009) with a BA in psychology and will receive her MA in criminology, law and society from Villanova University in 2010. She specializes in the interaction of society and mental illness, which is manifested both in her interest in Pennhurst State school and in her research on racial disparities in psychiatric diagnosis. Her fascination with history is expressed in her work at Eastern State Penitentiary Historical Society (Philadelphia, PA), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, where all proceeds benefits the preservation and stabilization of the National Historic Landmark.

  • Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen worked with the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) from 1973 to 2009. During his tenure, he led initiatives in developing state-wide program s in family living and life sharing, as well as the Medicaid waivers. These waivers became the cornerstone of policy leading to the reduction in the number of people in state centers from 12,000 in 1973 to approximately 1,000 today.

    Dana is a passionate advocate to countless people with intellectual disabilities. He is a member of the Lifesharing Coalition of Pennsylvania, a member of ARC of Pennsylvania, and is currently the project director of the Pennsylvania History Coalition Honoring People with Disability.  Dana is completing a three-part book series entitled, Arching Tale: A Generation’s Support of People with Disability in the United States.

  • Pat Leo

    Pat Leo is the Pennsylvania Conference of Executives of The Arc of Pennsylvania representative to the Board of Directors. She is also the Chief Operating Officer of The Arc Alliance.

  • Yvonne Husic, Esq.

    She is sole practitioner of the Husic Law Office, located in Harrisburg, where she focuses mainly in the area of special education law. Ms. Husic has 30 years experience in special education. She worked for the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens (PARC), currently The Arc of PA, as Director of Governmental Affairs and Advocacy for 16 years during the closure of Pennhurst and with local ARC Chapters prior to that. Ms. Husic has 20 years of experience as an attorney practicing in the area of special education law, both at the administrative level and federal court litigation.
  • Edward Cohle

    Ed worked on the Pennhurst Longitudinal Study as a Site Reiewer, while working for the large provider agency PATH - People Acting To Help - the agency that invited Jean Searle to leave her institution and come home to Philadelphia. Ed was involved in the same process with dozens of residents from Pennhurst.
  • William Brunner

    Bill is the president of the Spring Ford Historical Society. The author of several local history publications, Bill brings a knowledge of the social and geographical context within which our re-development efforts must take place.
  • Colleen Wieck, Ph.D

    Executive Director of the nation's most valued and progressive Developmental Disabilities Council, Dr. Wieck is an essential member of this group. She has compiled one of the most complete sources of history and progress in developmental disabilities in the world on the Council's websites and DVD. Her work Parallels in Time is not only a historic tour de force, it is an invaluable training tool for new workers in the field.
  • Ginny Thornburgh

    Currently the Director of Religion and Disability at the National Organization on Disability in Washington, Ginny has balanced being a parent of a child with disabilities with being the wife of the Governor of Pennsylvania, Attorney General of the United States and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Eleanor Elkin

    Involved in the Pennhurst story from the very beginning, Eleanor worked tirelessly as an ARC advocate, President of the ARC of PA, PILCOP worker on the Pennhurst litigation, and one of the founders of the international movement to address proper treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Lillian Lampros

  • Nancy Zollers, Ph.D

    Nancy worked at PILCOP in the Pennhurst years. She obtained her Doctorate at Syracuse, working with some of the finest of the heirs of Burton Blatt. Her work in transition, inclusive education, charter schools, and now with the ARC of Massachusetts, testifies to her devotion and activism. Nancy has a powerful sense of our history in this endeavor, and can contribute precious holdings to our envisioned Archives.
  • Bill Baldini

    It was Bill Baldini's legendary and groundbreaking 1968 documentary Suffer the Little Children that oriented Pennhurst toward its place in history as the epicenter of the human rights movement for people with disabilities. A watershed moment in the expository journalism and disability rights, Suffer the Little Children and its wake changed the course of our national history. Upon his retirement 2006, Bill was the longest working television reporter in the city of Philadelphia and in 2005, the Philadelphia City Council declared March 17th "Bill Baldini Day," recognizing his efforts.
  • Donna Bouclier

    Now the Director of the ARC of Philadelphia, Donna worked for a major service provider in Philadelphia for many years before giving birth to her daughter, Alina. Donna has also served as the Co-President of the National Coalition on Self Determination. She has a Masters degree in education.
  • Alina Szamatowicz

    Daughter of Donna Couclier, Alina is a student at the Overbrook School, and participates in trainings on communication and inclusion. She has Aicardi syndrome and looks forward to a meaningful life.
  • Chris Peecho

    Chris grew up around Phoenixville and moved to Spring City in 1994. He has always been interested in history, especially local history. Combing the local historical society only fueled this interest. A few friends of Chris were former employees of Pennhurst and shared many stories about their experiences there. In 1996, what would later evolve into El Peecho Productions (www.elpeecho.com) was founded. What started out as a memorial site grew into an online warehouse of historical documentation of the Pennhurst saga. After the property was sold to a private developer by the State, Peecho was contacted by Nathaniel Guest sparking the beginning of the Preserve Pennhurst project.
  • Betty Potts

    Betty was the first person to leave Pennhurst under Judge Raymond Broderick's Federal District Court order. Betty went to Pennhurst when she was 8 years old, in 1966. She went to Pennhurst because, although her family loved her deeply, they could not take care of her the way professionals said they should - and all the professionals said she would be better off at an institution. But Pennhurst was not at all good for, or to, Betty. She moved out of Pennhurst in 1978, at age 20, after spending part of her childhood and all of her adolescence there. She became an advocate and activist, and helped to start Speaking for Ourselves, one of the first organizations in the nation to be run for and by people with disabilities. Betty presented in more than 15 states on advocacy, self-determination, and moving out of institutions. She was one of the first people with disabilities in Delaware County to have a home of her own, by obtaining and responsibly using subsidized housing through the housing authority. She also pioneered the supported living program at the agency she was with for over 20 years. She recently appeared on national TV -- in the Travel Channel's one hour show on Pennhurst. She was a fan of the Ruby Tuesday restaurants, was loyal as both a friend and mentor, and loved kids. Betty passed away peacefully in June of 2018. Our Board members organized a celebration of her life in January 2019.
  • Matthew Diehl

    Matthew grew up in Royersford, just on the other side of the Schuyikill River, from the Pennhurst Campus. Always fascinated with local history, Pennhurst had sparked his interest back in 1991 as a teenager. Matt began compiling information on the State School and had spoken with many past employees, which only further sparked his interest. Matt has kept an eye on this property in hopes that someone would save it. In 2008, after hearing that the State would be selling to a private firm, Matt thought all hope of saving the property would be lost. In late 2009, Matt had heard rumors that the current owner planned on opening the Administration Building as a haunted attraction. While researcing this rumor amidst the Internet, he had found the PM&PA Website. Matt contacted Nathaniel Guest for information on the validity of the haunted attraction, And from there joined the PM&PA in their efforts to save the Pennhurst Campus. Currently a construction site superintendant, Matt offers his services in any way needed to benefit the efforts of The PM&PA.
  • Charlie Hardy

    • Historian
  • Tom Neville

    • Attorney and historian
  • Tom Gilhool

    • Attorney for the Right to Education, Halderman v. Pennhurst, and many others

Our Logo: The Pennhurst Dogwood

Pennhurst DogwoodFound in several locations on the powerfully emotive Pennhurst campus, the Dogwood is the perennial symbol of resurrection, remembrance, and redemption.

As such, it represents our effort to save this internationally-significant place of memory from destruction. Through its environmentally-responsible and socially-sensitive re-use, Pennhurst can again become not only a profitable contributor to the region, but the birthplace of a needed renewed conscience for the future