Nothing sums up George Edberg’s character better than his own words, “I love Philadelphia, but I hate the city of Philadelphia.”
An opponent of nepotism and bureaucracy, but a proponent of people, Edberg has dedicated his life and wealth to Temple University.
The University’s “populist mission” has fostered the dedication for which he so passionately displays.
You may have seen him around campus before.
An elderly gentleman, in his late 70’s, with a full head of white hair.
Slowly making his way around campus with a rosy face, and subtle, almost calculated steps.
Wearing time-battered T-shirts and equally aged pants, one begins to question his status in life.
Is he one of the many panhandling bums that so frequent the campus that he has become a Temple mainstay?
Or is he a disheveled old man who has lost his grasp on life and reality?
Truth be told, he’s none of the above.
Representing the classic dichotomy of image vs. reality, this man, more properly known as George Edberg, is quite the opposite of what social norms would have us believe about a man of such appearance.
Born in Philadelphia some 78 years ago, George (as he prefers to be called) is the child of Swedish immigrants.
His father, like the majority of immigrant laborers, toiled away in one of the numerous factories of the then industrious city of Philadelphia.
After graduating from Frankford High he enlisted in the Navy, as many patriotic, able-bodied young men had done.
Following his service during World War II, from October of 1942 until the Spring of 1945 (“3 years, 5 months, and 26 days to be exact”), George returned home for a college education.
Many of his generation would agree that WWII was the most defining moment of their lives, yet for George it was for a different reason.
The end of the war brought the “G.I. Bill, which made a college education accessible to many,” he said. It was an opportunity of which he took full advantage.
Initially, he applied to the University of Pennsylvania.
After being asked by an admissions officer if either his mother or father attended the University, George immediately ripped up his application and turned his attention to Temple.
It was here that George completed his undergraduate studies in 1949. He then went on to study at the University of Havana in Cuba — during the same time as Fidel Castro — and received his A.M. (the equivalent of a Master’s degree) in Pedagogy.
By 1953, George had received his Ph.D. in Romance Language and Literature from the University of Kansas. His multiple degrees offered him teaching positions all along the eastern seaboard; University of Virginia, University of Florida, and the University of Pittsburgh.
Finally, by 1965, George returned to his home for a teaching position at Temple.
It was here where George not only taught Spanish, but helped to create the Spanish Department.
After certain “problems with administration,” as George put it, he was forced to teach Intellectual Heritage and English Composition as “punishment.”
In 1991, George’s 26-year career as a Temple professor came to an end.
Now retired for just over 10 years, George still comes everyday to Temple from his home on Spring Garden Street.
A huge fan of Temple sports, he can be found hanging around the Owl Club in Vivacqua Hall.
George also goes to the side of Ritter Hall, everyday, to feed the stray cats.
Aside from teaching at Temple, and helping around the Owl Club, George has donated more than just his time.
He designated Temple as a beneficiary of his retirement plan “with the inspiring thought of providing for future generations.”
If that weren’t enough, he also donated a desperately needed $1 million to the football team.
In his honor, at 10th and Diamond Streets, now stands a building in the new football facility that bears his name.
In the end, George doesn’t want to be known as a great intellect, nor by any elite titles, he just wants to be known as “a good guy.”
So when you see him next time wandering around campus, forget the clothes, forget the age, and forget his gait, just remember his good nature.
And if you see him on or after Oct. 3, wish him a happy birthday.
Obaid Siddiqui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org