Distinguished Alumna
Class of 2023

Virginia L. Fortney

AHS Class of 1952

The 1952 Arcola High School Torch reported senior Virginia Fortney was noted for her “athletic ability” and she aspired to “go on to school” following graduation. Virginia continued her education, earning bachelor of science, master of science and doctoral degrees in physical education, leading to her work as a respected educator at one of our country’s top-ranked research universities.

Virginia Lorraine Fortney was born September 15, 1934, the fifth child of Dr. Millard Hunter Fortney and Vivian Marie Rennels Fortney, with older brothers Millard, James, William Robert and Joseph. Her father, Arcola physician and mayor, died when Virginia was just one year old. Her mother then taught school and was later a director of social services.

While a student at Arcola High School, Virginia was active in Girls Athletic Association, Band, Chorus, Glee Club, Arco-Lite, Torch and class plays. She was an officer in both Band and Chorus during her junior and senior years, and a four-year officer in GAA, serving as president her senior year. Virginia was elected senior class president and also received the American Legion Award for the class of 1952.

In the fall of 1952, Virginia enrolled at the University of Illinois, where she became a member of Women’s Athletic Association and Terrapin Swim Club. She was elected president of the Women’s Physical Education Majors’ Club her senior year and was also named to Shorter Board, an organization honoring senior women exhibiting outstanding leadership and service. Virginia completed her B.S. in Physical Education and Biology in 1956 and then began her teaching career at Woodstock, IL, Elementary School. In 1958, she continued her work as an elementary physical education teacher for children of Army personnel at the Dependents’ Education Group in Mannheim, Germany, and then taught at Princeville, IL, High School during the 1960-1961 school year.

Virginia’s teaching career advanced to the college level at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was an instructor in the Department of Physical Education and Dance from 1961 to 1965. She continued her education while teaching at UW-Madison and completed her M.S. in Physical Education in 1964.

Virginia began her work at Pennsylvania State University in 1965 as an instructor in the Department of Health and Physical Education. In 1974, she was named assistant professor of Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Development. Virginia was awarded a fellowship and received a one-year leave of absence from Penn State to further her education on campus at Purdue University. With additional summer studies, she was able to complete her Ph.D. in Physical Education and Child Development in 1980.

In her years at Penn State, Dr. Fortney worked as a faculty affiliate with the Gerontology Center and as an associate scientist in the Center for Child and Adolescent Health and Behavior. Her research focused on the motor patterns of children, as well as the biomechanics of USA Olympic gymnasts, specifically vaulters, at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Additionally, Virginia was a member of the University Faculty Senate, served as advisor to both undergraduate and graduate students and taught several courses in the department’s professional program. She also authored numerous research articles in her field.

Virginia retired in 1998 after thirty-two years of service at Penn State, with a career in physical education that spanned five decades. Her retirement years have allowed her to follow her interests in travel and bird watching as she visited countries in Central America and also traveled throughout our country. She is “Aunt Ginny” to a dozen nieces and nephews, as well as numerous great-nieces and nephews, and is doing well at home in State College, PA.

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Last Revision September 25, 2023