UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Trustee Emeritus H. Jesse Arnelle, a Penn State alumnus, professional athlete, lawyer and activist who served in the U.S. Navy and Peace Corps, died on Oct. 21. Arnelle died in San Francisco, California, at the age of 86 due to heart disease. 

Arnelle’s notable life and career spanned decades on the basketball court and in the courtroom. As a 1955 graduate of Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Arnelle was the first Black student body president in University history, as well as the first Black member and chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees. Elected to the board in 1969, Arnelle served as a trustee for 45 years before being honored with the lifetime designation of trustee emeritus in 2014.  

Arnelle is one of the greatest players in Penn State basketball history. He led the Nittany Lions to the Final Four in 1954 and is the third-leading scorer in PSU history. He held the scoring record himself for many years, until getting passed by Talor Battle in 2011.

  1. Talor Battle: 2,213 points
  2. Lamar Stevens: 2,207 points
  3. Jesse Arnelle: 2,138 points

Arnelle is still the career rebounding leader at Penn State, grabbing 1,238.

He achieved greatness on the basketball court, but Arnelle actually came to Penn State to play football in 1951. From PSU:

Born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1933, Arnelle first came to Penn State to play football in 1951. He earned All-American honorable mentions on the football field, but it was on the basketball court where he excelled. He helped lead the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Final Four in 1954, and was also recognized as an All-American in basketball.

Penn State President Eric Barron had this to say in the PSU news release:

“Jesse had an abundance of experience and much success throughout his life, but he always remained strongly connected to Penn State. His impressive contributions as a student-athlete are only surpassed by the positive difference he made for the people within our University community and in many others.”

Here is Arnelle’s online obituary. And this tweet from Ryan Jones of The Penn Stater Magazine sums up his legacy.

Become a Nittany Pride member for an ad-free experience throughout the site and even more exclusive in-depth content. You can sign up for $3.99 per month or get a yearly subscription for only $38.00.

Arnelle was the No. 13 overall pick in the 1955 NBA draft. He played one season in the NBA, averaging 4.7 points in 31 games for the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1955-56.

He also played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

He served in the U.S. Air Force and spent time in the Peace Corps.

From the PSU news release:

Arnelle began his law career in California and worked in corporate law and as a trial lawyer for a public defender’s office before he opened his own practice. In 1985, he joined forces with a colleague and founded the firm of Arnelle and Hastie. The practice was one of the first minority-owned corporate law firms in the country and represented such clients as Ford Motor Co., Coca-Cola Co., Chrysler and Levi Strauss and Co.  

“With his range of life and professional experiences, Jesse brought a unique perspective to the board,” said Penn State Board of Trustees President Mark Dambly. “Jesse was a pleasure to work with, and his forward vision and insight will be missed, as will his good nature and generosity.”