University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students will gather inside the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service and National Competitiveness – discussing important issues, gaining an understanding of how government works, and learning about the importance of community service.

And, in doing so, they will honor the legacy of the longest-serving congressman in Pennsylvania history.

Looking toward that future, Kyle Maguire, president of UPJ's Student Government Association, told a group of dignitaries: “As a political science major, this building is a great opportunity for social science majors to excel in their real-world action. The ethos that every student can make a difference is one to believe in."

The grand Murtha Center was dedicated Thursday with a ceremony and ribbon-cutting on the UPJ campus.

Former State Sen. John Wozniak envisions seeing “a lot of young people, a lot of students, coming through here to get motivated.”

Raymond Wrabley, a UPJ professor of political science, who will serve as faculty liaison to the center, plans to organize classes, workshops, seminars and other events.

“It can be a hub, and I think the facility will serve as that,” Wrabley said. “I think the exhibits around the assembly hall are reminders about the differences that people can make in the course of public service. It's an inspiring setting for having those discussions inside the hall, while it's surrounded by the exhibits showing off the legacy of Congressman Murtha.”

The center houses items from the congressman's life and a virtual reality display about Murtha, all meant to inspire future generations of leaders at Pitt-Johnstown, a school the late congressman attended.

“What this center means to the people who visit – to the students who are going to visit – how important it is to serve in leadership and what that means,” Bill Polacek, owner of JWF Industries, said. “I think that (they can learn) by watching his successes and some of his obstacles – how he overcame those – and how he stayed true to his values and did great things because of a firm belief not only that one person can make a difference but that you should go out and try to make a difference.”

Many of Murtha's family members, friends and staffers gathered for the event.

“I think what's most impressive to me is that people recognize that Jack put his whole heart and soul into representing this area because he really felt that he could make a contribution and could do some positive things for his country as well as our district,” said the congressman's widow, Joyce Murtha.

Along with dedicating the center, Murtha's supporters took time to recall the man who represented Pennsylvania's 12th District from 1974 until his death in 2010. Murtha was the first Vietnam War veteran elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He rose to the powerful position of defense appropriations subcommittee chairman.

Murtha championed countless causes, including veterans care, breast cancer, infrastructure development, environmental stewardship and the arts.

He also inspired other community leaders.

“The reason I ran for Congress was because of the inspiration Jack Murtha gave me," said former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, who succeeded Murtha in the 12th District seat. "That one person can make a difference. That you're here to do things – you're here to make a difference for not only your community, but for your state, your country, for the nation as a whole.”

Benjamin Cassidy, assistant secretary for legislative affairs for the Department of Homeland Security, called Murtha “ a man of tremendous courage” who “was fearless and a staunch believer in speaking truth to power, a quality much admired, but seldom practiced.”

UPJ President Jem Spectar said Murtha “left a monumental impact on our campus, our community and our country.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.