Schember Third Consecutive Gannon University Graduate to Lead City

Posted: February 8, 2018

Inauguration Brings Together Two Old Friends

Joe Schember stood smiling on the steps of a historic firehouse in downtown Erie in early January ready to celebrate his inauguration as the city's 48th mayor - and the third consecutive Gannon University graduate to lead the city.

Dauphin County Court Judge John Cherry, Schember's longtime friend and fellow Gannon alumnus, was there, as he had been for so many other important moments in Schember's life, overcome with pride. He'd administered Schember's oath of office an hour earlier at Erie City Hall, an act Cherry said was "the most important administration of an oath I've ever done."

"It was very uplifting and very overwhelming in a lot of ways," said Schember, Gannon Class of 1972, who sat down for a conversation with Cherry in Gannon's Old Main following the inauguration. "I'm still honestly on a high from it. It was a great experience, and I'm especially pleased to have my good friend John Cherry here to swear me in and be a part of it."

Schember and Cherry met at St. Mark's Seminary - both once had thoughts of entering the priesthood - and their friendship grew through their time at what was then Gannon College, where Schember majored in English and Cherry majored in history. Later, both worked at Elk County Christian High School in St. Mary's, Schember as a teacher and Cherry as a teacher, coach and administrator.

When their paths diverged - Cherry went on to practice law and served as district attorney of Dauphin County before being elected to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, Schember began a 40-year career at PNC Bank- the good friends kept in touch, always picking up where they'd last left off like no time had passed. Their lives, and the lives of their families, remained intertwined.

"Some people you just kind of click with, it's like you know each other when you first meet," Schember said.

"That's how I feel about John. He's a great guy and I'm fortunate to have him as a friend."

Cherry has been a part of many inauguration ceremonies. This one was different.

"I had felt some emotion, but it never got to me until we walked up the steps for the little soiree Joe had afterward," said Cherry, Gannon Class of 1973. "He walked up and got to the top of the steps and there was this thunderous applause and cheers for him. And I lost it. I'm very proud of him."

Schember and Cherry have a deep love of Gannon, a place both said shaped them as people and helped pave their way to success. In 2003, Cherry and his wife, Camille, established the Dr. Thomas L. Szendrey Endowed Scholarship to honor Cherry's favorite professor. Szendrey and a long list of other professors inspired him, Cherry said.

Taking advantage of all Gannon had to offer "put me in this chair today," he said.

"The aura of this place and all the people who walked through here … it had a profound effect on me," Cherry said. "All the things, particularly faith-based things, that I learned here all had an effect on my life. … You're being formed internally. You don't realize it, but you are."

Gannon is more than a brick-and-mortar institution where students can receive a first-rate education. It's a place, Schember and Cherry said, that fosters the kind of special connections like theirs.

It's also critical to Erie's success, Schember said.

"Gannon is a vital part of the city," he said. "You can't separate the two."

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