Distinguished Alumnus
Class of 2023

William Robert "Bob" Fortney
(June 3, 1926 - September 6, 2015)

AHS Class of 1944

As a high school student, Bob Fortney developed an interest in flower gardening. He sought conversations with older ladies in the community to learn about their flowers, particularly their roses. His early interest in flowers led to an impressive academic career, as well as extensive international travel in his effort to improve commercial flower production and sales.

William Robert ďBobĒ Fortney was born June 3, 1926, to Arcola parents Dr. Millard Hunter Fortney and Vivian Marie Rennels Fortney. He was the middle child, with siblings Millard, James, Joseph and Virginia. Bobís father was Arcola mayor and physician, who died during The Great Depression when Bob was nine years old. His mother then taught school and was later a director of social services.

Bob was a student during one of the most historic times at Arcola High School. Following his freshman year, a July 24, 1941 lightning strike and fire caused great destruction to the school. He was a sophomore at the time of the December 7, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent US involvement in World War II. Despite turmoil in the world, a familiar routine continued for Bob and all students at Arcola High School. He was a four-year member of the Glee Club and played violin in the Orchestra. He also participated in Track, Future Farmers of America, Masque & Gavel and class plays. The class of 1944 elected Bob their senior class vice-president.

Following his high school graduation in May 1944, Bob soon enlisted in the United States Navy and served honorably as a hospital medic from 1944 to 1946. Upon his return from service, he enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he completed his B.S. in Agriculture and Floriculture in 1949. Bob was a graduate student at the University of Illinois when married U of I graduate Jean Bawden Decker in Metropolis, IL, on February 4, 1950. He completed his M.S. in Horticulture that same year.

Bob was awarded a fellowship to further his education at Purdue University, where he earned his Ph.D. in Plant Genetics and Floriculture in 1954. He then continued his postdoctoral research studies at Purdue. In 1956, Bob secured an academic faculty position at West Virginia University at Morgantown, WV, and continued to teach there until 1967. While residing in Morgantown, Bob became a 32nd degree Mason and was responsible for key roles in the organization. He was also an active supporter of The Boy Scouts.

The Fortney family, now with children David, Joan and Mark, moved to State College, PA, in 1967 when Bob became Associate Professor of Horticulture at Pennsylvania State University. While at Penn State, Bob was instrumental in developing trial gardens and commercial flower production for international flower growers. He and Jean traveled extensively as Bob led garden tours in dozens of countries across five continents. The United States Department of Agriculture selected Bob to assist commercial flower growers in developing countries, including Bolivia, Nigeria, Uganda and Azerbaijan, as they learned to improve the production and sale of commercial flowers.

Bob completed his academic career in 1991 with twenty four years of service at Penn State and more than three decades in higher education. His retirement allowed more time for other interests. He was an avid bridge player, was well read in history and also enjoyed history lectures, poetry club and classical performances by Penn State School of Music.

Bob and Jean moved to The Village at Penn State in 2003, where Bob chaired the landscape committee at their retirement community and also wrote plant care guides for Penn State Cooperative Extension. Bob and Jean were members of State College Presbyterian Church.

The Fortneys shared sixty years together before Jeanís passing in 2010. Bob passed away at State College on September 6, 2015, after leading an exemplary life for their three children, as well as three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Fortney Garden was then established in 2016 at The Village at Penn State to memorialize Bob and Jean.

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Last Revision September 25, 2023