West Virginia University bid farewell to longtime benefactors Betty J. Puskar and Carolyn Eberly Blaney in 2020.
Blaney, a loyal WVU alumna who carried on a longstanding family tradition of philanthropy, passed away Friday, May 8, at the age of 96. Puskar, a longtime supporter of WVU and WVU Medicine, died at the age of 80 on Sunday, June 14, at her home in Morgantown.
Both women will be remembered for a philanthropic legacy that lives on long beyond their passing.
‘First Lady of Morgantown’
Puskar wanted to be remembered as someone who facilitated breast cancer care and for making breast cancer something that people talked about. She also wanted to be known as someone who helped people.
Those who crossed paths with Puskar can attest to that legacy of kindness, compassion, empathy for others, selflessness and fierce advocacy for those with breast cancer.
“West Virginia University has lost a great friend in Betty Puskar, but her legacy will live on in the lives she has helped save or prolong through her advocacy and support of women’s health,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “The Betty Puskar Breast Care Center is but one result of her philanthropy and commitment to the betterment of our community. West Virginia University and West Virginia will always be grateful for her lively and generous spirit.”
“Betty Puskar was a generational leader for WVU, the WVU Cancer Institute and the state of West Virginia,” Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for WVU Health Sciences said. “Betty showed all of us the power of grace, love, caring and service to others in promoting healing. She helped countless numbers of patients and inspired everyone in the power of selfless service to others."
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, Puskar sought treatment in Houston, Texas. She fought through the disease and was determined to build a breast care treatment facility in Morgantown so that others would not have to leave home to get exceptional care. In 1994, she contributed the initial donation to establish the Betty Puskar Breast Care Center. Part of the WVU Cancer Institute, the Center provides comprehensive, all-encompassing breast care for women in West Virginia and the surrounding region.
“Betty Puskar will always be a hero to the women of West Virginia,” Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, interim director of the WVU Cancer Institute said. “There aren’t many she has not touched whether directly at the breast center she founded, championed and supported for all those years or indirectly through her advocacy for women’s access to high quality breast cancer screening and treatment. For me, she embodies what survivorship is – living life to the fullest, embracing what was dealt to her and maximizing her ability to influence others to improve the healthcare for West Virginians. The WVU Cancer Institute lost an ally and most importantly, a friend. We will miss her tremendously and vow to honor her legacy as we advocate for and deliver cutting edge cancer care across West Virginia.”
Often referred to as the “First Lady of Morgantown,” Puskar was unquestionably West Virginia’s poster figure for the war on cancer. She was born in a rural area outside Covington, Virginia, the fourth of eight brothers and sisters. She completed Covington Business College and soon after met Mike Puskar. The couple was married and had a daughter, Johanna. She tirelessly supported her former husband’s efforts to create an independent drug company which ultimately gave rise to the generic pharmaceutical industry. This led to the founding of the company known today as Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
“Betty Puskar was a fierce advocate for breast cancer patients in West Virginia and a loyal friend to WVU Medicine,” Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System said. “Not only did she support the WVU Cancer Institute financially and with her time, she also supported several other programs, including WVU Medicine Children’s. We will miss her personality, her generosity, and, most importantly, her friendship. There will never be another person like Betty Puskar. It was a pleasure to have known her.”
Puskar served on the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center Board of Advisors and was a charter member of the Foundation’s Woodburn Circle Society. She founded the Betty Puskar Futures LPGA Golf Tournament that was held for 17 years at the Pines Country Club and its related fashion show that was a much-anticipated community event for 15 years. She frequently made herself available to speak, counsel and give encouragement to those suffering from cancer, especially terminal patients. Puskar is also the proud grandmother of Kyle, who attended WVU’s College of Business and Economics.
“Betty was a force of nature; her personality would light up a room as soon as she walked in – yet she did it with such grace, humility and in her own unique way,” WVU Foundation President and CEO Cindi Roth said. “Betty defined how to ‘pay it forward’ in helping West Virginians along her way, and her impact will be palpable for generations to come. The ‘light’ of Betty Puskar has not gone out; it now lives in the life of her grandson, Kyle, who, like Betty, continues to shine and carry the name proudly, gently and with the honor that it holds.”
‘A true Mountaineer’
Blaney and her late husband, W. Gerald Blaney, of Chalk Hill, Pa., made major contributions to many WVU projects, programs, scholarships and more. The WVU president’s home is named Blaney House in recognition of their generosity, and the Douglas O. Blaney Lobby at the Canady Creative Arts Center is named in memory of their son.
“Carolyn Blaney understood the importance of higher education, and its role in creating a better world,” Gee said. “She generously gave her support to ensuring West Virginia University and other institutions were in a position to fulfill that role. She was a true Mountaineer and we can honor her memory best by following her example. She will be deeply missed.”
Blaney was the daughter of Ruth and Orville Eberly, of nearby Greensboro, Pennsylvania, who established the Eberly Foundation and donated to a variety of charitable causes in western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia during their lifetimes. As former president of the Eberly Foundation and a trustee of the Eberly Family Charitable Trust, Blaney was instrumental in providing numerous gifts to benefit the University, particularly in the arts and sciences. She previously served on the visiting committee for the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, WVU’s largest, which is named in honor of her family’s dedication and generosity to WVU.
A member of the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity, Blaney graduated from WVU in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in speech and an emphasis in drama. She was named WVU’s Most Loyal Mountaineer in 1992 and inducted into the Order of Vandalia, the University’s highest service honor, in 1995. She received an honorary doctorate from WVU in 1998 and the College of Creative Arts Dean’s Award in 1999.
Blaney was an emeritus member of the WVU Foundation board of directors, on which she served for 11 years. The Blaneys belonged to the Foundation’s Woodburn Circle and Irvin Stewart societies and were the inaugural recipients of the Foundation’s Outstanding Volunteer Philanthropists award in 2005. They played an important role in capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts over the years, helping to secure additional private support to benefit WVU.
Roth was struck by Blaney’s quiet, graceful elegance when they first met over breakfast during WVU Cancer Institute gala festivities at The Greenbrier.
“There was never any question of Carolyn’s commitment to West Virginia University and the importance of providing an education for the next generation,” Roth said. “She was relentless in her passion to help others, and I was always struck by her quick wit and great perspective on life.
“The bright light in Carolyn’s blue eyes reflected a genuine happiness and peace that she had done the right thing throughout her blessed life. She left an imprint that will be felt for many generations to come. Thank you, Carolyn, for all that you have done to make us better.”
Blaney’s husband, a World War II veteran who retired from the oil and gas industry, died in March 2015.