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Guadagnolo Kerstetter Postcard

There are people who come into our lives and make us better. They support us. They mentor us. Their perspective changes us. Because of them, we become the people we are meant to be. For hundreds, if not thousands of alumni in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at Penn State, Professors Emerita Dr. Frank Guadagnolo and Dr. Deb Kerstetter are people who made us better.

Frank in Rome

Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., Frank worked in supervisory and management positions with Aerojet General Corporation, outside of Sacramento, California. “When I became a recreation professional in the 1960s, the United States was amid the Space Race. Aerojet, a missile production company, provided recreation to its 23,000 employees and their families as part of its benefit package. As Recreation Supervisor and later manager, I had unlimited funds to create recreation experiences.”

While working for Aerojet, Frank and three friends opened a sporting goods store in Davis, California. The store was profitable in their second year. The need to expand inventory and keep up with demand was challenging for the young entrepreneurs so they ended up selling the business to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Craig Morton.

As the missile production industry became more competitive, Aerojet faced major layoffs. Frank took that opportunity to move into municipal recreation when he accepted a position with the city of El Cerrito (close to Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco). “My experience there proved interesting as protests against the war in Vietnam, the free speech movement, Black Panther demonstrations, and the counterculture movement made the provision of recreation and park services challenging.”

Frank joined the faculty at Penn State in what was then called Recreation and Parks (RcPk) in 1974 after completing his Ph.D. at Oregon State University. At that time, there were approximately 700 RcPk majors compared to just under 300 Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management majors in 2024. In the 1970s, the majority of RcPk students were preparing for recreation careers in the public sector at the federal, state, and local levels.

Deb in Fiji

1979. Enter Deb Kerstetter. Deb was also a transplant from California, having completed her degree in Recreation Administration from California State University at Chico. After a six-month stint in Peru as a program specialist at the American School of Lima, Deb enrolled at Penn State as a master’s student in Recreation and Parks with a minor in Gerontology. She worked for the Centre County Area Agency on Aging and then as a Recreation Program Director/Trainer for IDEALS in State College before returning to her position as a research assistant within Recreation and Parks. Deb served RCPK/RPTM as research assistant and then instructor before being promoted to Assistant Professor of Leisure Studies with the completion of her Ph.D. in 1990 in Recreation and Parks.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Until the late 1990s, faculty in RPTM had a teaching load of three (3) courses per semester and additional advising load of up to 70 student advisees. Prior to the centralized advising team that students know of today, back then it was faculty who helped develop graduation plans, provided guidance in career planning, and lent an ear if students had issues. 

Dr. Guadagnolo and Dr. Kerstetter not only formed long standing relationships with their students, but also developed a personal and lifelong partnership and marriage as part of the RPTM faculty. From the days of RcPk offices in Rec Hall, through the years in the old HHD building, through the move to the Mateer Building and finally, to the current home in the Ford Building, Frank and Deb were part of the team.

Deb Kerstetter Award

Deb’s focus is tourism. She served as chair for 23 Ph.D. committees; served as chair for 19 master’s theses committees; and supervised 29 Senior Honors committees in addition to serving on the committees for dozens of other students. Her publications and collaborations with students, alumni, and colleagues are too numerous to mention. Deb’s leadership and mentoring served new faculty, students under her guidance, and anyone who stepped into her office through her open door. She has served as reviewer and/or editor for all the professional journals in the field. Her list of awarded grants and funding is lengthy. In addition to the long list of university teaching and mentoring awards, Deb was awarded the Society for Park and Recreation Educators (SPRE) Teaching Award. In 2007, the RPTM Alumni Program group instituted the Deb Kerstetter RPTM Alumni Program Group Outstanding Alumni Award to recognize those alums, like Deb, who have made and are making a difference in the field.

Frank’s impact on the department continues today. In addition to serving as department head twice during his tenure in RPTM, as well as amassing his own list of awards, grants, and student mentorship, Frank is best known for his foresight and efforts to bring the PGA Professional Golf Management option in RPTM to Penn State. Recognizing that the undergraduate student focus was shifting from municipal recreation to students who were interested in pursuing careers in commercial settings, Frank began the work on the PGM program. In 1990, with the help of the PGA of America, Penn State’s Faculty Senate, and several practitioners, the golf option was introduced. “These young men and women are some of the most loyal PSU graduates out there,” said Frank. “The program continues to flourish due to RPTM’s dedicated faculty and staff!” 

Frank and Deb Outdoors

Frank’s development of the Legal Aspects of Recreation and Parks course for undergraduates set the stage for many of the engaged learning classes offered today as it included a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. where students spent time meeting with legislators, lobbyists and attending House, Senate, and Supreme Court sessions.

Frank retired from Penn State in 2005. Deb followed him in 2017. Frank retired as an Associate Professor and Deb a Professor—a testament to their impact and accomplishment in the field of recreation, parks, and tourism. 

Frank and Deb

Today, they enjoy spending time with family and gardening. Despite Frank’s recent health challenges, they enjoy traveling. Frank is following in the footsteps of both his grandfathers who grew grapes for the Gallo Winery in Italy. He serves as coordinator for a group of friends and colleagues in a winemaking operation that last year bottled 1000+ bottles. From ordering grapes to recycling the bottles and designing labels, Frank is the man behind the wine. Deb stays busy in her spare time with landscaping and kayaking. She remains active in the field with research with colleagues and former RPTM graduate students, serving on the boards of non-profits, affiliation with professional organizations, and helping current PSU graduate students as the Ombudsman for the graduate school at Penn State. They enjoy time with friends and family at their home in Port Matilda.

Talk to any RcPk or RPTM alum between 1974 and 2017, they will undoubtedly mention Frank and Deb. From professionals who gather at the PGA Show in Orlando every year, to the scholars who are now teaching and mentoring at universities all over the world, they will tell you the same thing: Dr. Frank Guadagnolo and Dr. Deb Kerstetter made them better.