Coming "Home" to Leave A Physical Mark on Kent State University

Gerald (Jerry) Payto’s father taught him an important lesson early on in life.

Gerald (Jerry) Payto’s father taught him an important lesson early on in life. “He used to say, ‘You really don’t receive until you give,’” Jerry said. “That has stuck in my mind my whole life."

Gerald (Jerry) ’68, and his wife, Christie, have been involved in numerous Kent State University endeavors, including establishing The Joseph Schidlowski  Visiting Professorship in Architecture in 2009. In addition, Jerry was the architect for phase one renovations of the School of Art in 2005. Now, Jerry’s firm, Payto Architects of Cleveland, has won the bid for the renovation and construction of the Kent State University Center for Visual Arts. Jerry will serve as the architect, and Christie, an interior designer, will handle all the interior design work for the project.

The 127,000 square-foot Center for Visual Arts, a Kent State Foundations of Excellence project, will combine two existing buildings (Van Deusen Hall and the Art Annex/Power House), and will also unify the School of Art’s studio, classroom and gallery spaces under one roof for the first time in more than 50 years.

“To come back ‘home’ and be involved in the Annex Building and Van Deusen where we had classes, and commit all this to one space, is very special to me,” Jerry said.

“One of the reasons this is so special to us is that we can work on this project together,” Christie said. “The buildings that we work on together are like our kids. That’s why we get so involved — it’s 24 hours a day; it’s 2 a.m. and we’re talking about it.”

Jerry, who says his passion for architecture dates back to when he was a small boy playing in a sandbox, absolutely loved Kent State when he arrived in 1959. Jerry worked his way through school and finished his architecture degree with a minor in art in 1968, then went to work full time.

Those years at Kent State prepared him to attend Columbia University, where he received his master’s degree in architecture and urban design in 1973.

“Art has been very close to me as well, the creative part of it,” Jerry said. “Art really carried me through a great part of my life, so it’s truly an honor to be involved in this project."

Jerry and Christie have also made a generous donation to the project, and will receive naming rights for two spaces: the student gallery and the main administrative conference space. When deciding on names for these two spaces, the Paytos knew right away they wanted to honor several special people.

“We chose to name the student gallery for my parents, Nick and Jennie Payto, who offered a great deal to me in my lifetime,” Jerry said, “and also my aunt Stella Zywar Payto.”

“Jerry’s aunt had lost her husband and had no children,” Christie said. “And because of medical issues she could not work. To help her sister, Jerry’s mother went to work with his father as potters, and gave her sister her paycheck while her sister watched her sons. His mother gave up raising her sons on a daily basis to go to work, so her sister who couldn’t work received the financial support she needed.”

Christie continued, “This also allowed Jerry’s aunt to experience having children of her own as well — by raising her nephews. It is a really a special story, and was a sacrifice on his mother’s part.”

“But it worked out beautifully for everyone,” Jerry said. “I ended up with a truly dedicated father, and two very dedicated mothers. I was very blessed in that way.”

They will be naming the main conference room in the administrative area after one of Jerry’s high school teachers, Raymond Penza, who taught mechanical drafting.

“Mr. Penza knew I wanted to be an architect,” Jerry said, “but there were no courses for that in high school. He said to me, ‘If you want to be an architect, sign up for my industrial drafting class; we’ll do architecture.’”

“In his classes, he had me work on architecture projects, like designing houses. I would draw the plans and the elevations, and he would even have me do little models,” Jerry said. “One time, there was a church under construction next to the school. I remember he had me check into class, then head out the back door to look at the site, talk to the workmen, take pictures, and write a report of exactly what was going on with the construction.”

“Mr. Penza made sure I got on the right track, that I went to school, that I became an architect. He made sure I realized my dream. He was much more than a teacher,” Jerry said. “I can’t imagine if every child had someone just do one thing like this to their life, what a different world we would live in. That is why we named this for him.”

Because of these experiences of kindness and many others they have witnessed in their lives, Jerry and Christie also have strong opinions about giving back.

Speaking for them both, Jerry said, “I don’t even know if words can explain it. The reason we’re all here is to pay it forward; I think it’s extremely important. When you stop and think about this, it’s probably the most important thing.”

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POSTED: Sunday, February 1, 2015 02:49 PM
UPDATED: Thursday, December 08, 2022 11:06 AM
Institutional Advancement