Distinguished Pennsylvania legislator and beloved member of the Alvernia University community, Sen. Michael A. O’Pake passed away Dec. 27. Be sure to visit the president's current "Flynn File" for a personal rememberance from Dr. Tom Flynn.
Alvernia University and all of Berks County are mourning the loss of a dedicated government leader and tireless civil servant with the death of Sen. Michael O’Pake on Dec. 27. “It’s with great sadness that we note the passing of a legendary servant-leader and beloved member of the Alvernia community whose mark on this region is unmistakable,” said Alvernia President Thomas Flynn.
“Mike O’Pake was an impressive and influential statesman who also embodied the best in public service. Most importantly, he was a genuinely good man, a virtuous man, who never forgot his roots and cared deeply about people regardless of their background. Inspired by his religious faith and the Jesuit ideal to be “a man for others,” he lived his vocation of service and justice-seeking to the fullest,” said Flynn.
Born in 1940, Sen. O’Pake was a life-long resident of Reading and Berks County. He was elected to the General Assembly in 1968, when he defeated the incumbent Representative for his House District in Reading, and entered the Senate in 1972. He won re-election every four years after that. He was the longest-serving member in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
At the time of his death, Sen. O’Pake served as Democratic Whip and Minority Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, and served on the Committees on Aging and Youth, Democratic Policy, Ethics and Official Conduct, and Rules and Executive Nominations. Additional legislative assignments included membership on the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Joint State Government Commission, the Capitol Preservation Committee, and the Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
A graduate of Reading Central Catholic High School where he was valedictorian, Student Council President, and the recipient of numerous public speaking awards and scholarships, Sen. O’Pake graduated summa cum laude from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia and won the Keedy Cup for best appellate advocacy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he received a Juris Doctorate. Just last month, he was awarded the Shield of Loyola at St. Joseph’s, his alma mater’s highest honor.
Sen. O’Pake served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Alvernia for close to 20 years and, in 1999, received the University’s highest honor, the Franciscan Award, commemorating his years of service to the community and university. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Albright College and an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Kutztown University.
Among his many contributions to community groups and non-profit organizations was his service on the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine and on the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph's University and Scranton University.
In 2006, Alvernia dedicated a newly constructed state-of-the-art building to the Senator. The O’Pake Science Center added more than 31,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory, and faculty office space to the Reading campus. All laboratories and classrooms have SMART capability to bring the resources of research and data from other laboratories into Alvernia’s classrooms. A new laser laboratory was added to the facility in 2010.
Throughout his lifetime of public service, Sen. O'Pake was recognized as a tireless and effective advocate for children, senior citizens, crime victims and those who could not help themselves. He led the charge to protect children in Pennsylvania through, among other things, the passage of the Child Protective Services Law in 1974 and spearheading efforts to implement the Amber Alert Child Abduction Early Warning System throughout the Commonwealth. He sponsored major legislation to help Pennsylvania’s senior citizens, including property tax and rent rebate and prescription medication assistance.
Always available to the children of Reading, Sen. O’Pake visited Alvernia last month to speak to 53 middle school participants of the university’s South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) after-school program, an initiative he helped inspire and for which he secured the initial funding. Coordinated by Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement, the SRYI Career Exploration Workshop took place for six weeks with a variety of community professionals speaking to the children about their different jobs and career paths.
For close friends, some dating back to his high school years, and for his loyal staff, whose devotion to him was unmatched, an especially happy memory was the surprise 70th birthday party held for him this year at Alvernia. Convincing the Senator to visit campus proved easy when he was told that the event would honor some of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, for whom he had great affection and respect.
“What Mike O’Pake admired in the Sisters was the same deep spirituality and selflessness that marked his own vocation as a public servant,” noted Flynn. “His legacy of generous, caring service to the residents of Reading and Berks County will endure for generations to come.”