Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission: Who Is Tom Wolf?

Friday, April 28, 2017
Tom Wolf

On February 2, 2017, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) was selected to be the year’s co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which works to improve the lives of those who live in the 13 states that comprise Appalachia. Each of the 13 governors sits on the commission. The other co-chair is appointed by the President.


Wolf was born November 17, 1948, in Mount Wolf, Pennsylvania, to Bill and Cornelia Wolf. The town was named for Wolf’s great-great grandfather, who was the postmaster there. His family owned the major business in the town, what is now the Wolf Organization, which makes kitchen cabinets.


Wolf attended the Hill School, graduating in 1967, and went on to Dartmouth. After his first year there, Wolf went into the Peace Corps, serving in Orissa, India, and working on agricultural projects. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1972 with a B.A. and went to the University of London, where he earned an M.Phil. in 1978. Wolf continued his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a Ph.D. in political science in 1981. His 600-page dissertation, “Congressional Sea Change: Conflict and Organizational Accomodation in the House of Representatives, 1878 to 1921,” was on the evolution of the committee system in the House of Representatives.


Although Wolf had teaching opportunities, he returned to Mount Wolf to work in the family business. He started as a forklift driver and managed a hardware store owned by the company. In 1985, upon his father’s retirement, Wolf along with two partners, who were cousins, bought the company. Wolf helped run the company as co-president until 2006, when he and his partners sold it to an investment firm.   


Wolf had his eye on a political career and in 2007 was appointed his state’s secretary of revenue by then Governor Ed Rendell (D). Wolf remained in the cabinet for about a year before resigning in preparation for a run for governor in 2010. However, in 2009, Wolf’s former family business, burdened with debt from the corporate buyout and in the home improvement business in the midst of the housing crash, was on the brink of bankruptcy. He and his former partners repurchased the company, changed its business model to emphasize manufacture rather than distribution of products produced by other companies, and put it on the road to recovery.


In 2013, with the Wolf Organization successful again, Wolf began campaigning for the 2014 contest for the Pennsylvania statehouse. Although a relative unknown, he won a four-way Democratic primary and ended up winning the general election with 54.9% of the vote, turning out deeply unpopular incumbent Tom Corbett (R).


Among Wolf’s moves as governor were a ban on fracking in state parks and a moratorium on the death penalty. Moving forward, he has proposed increased funding for Pennsylvania schools and more support for fighting the opioid epidemic in his state.


Wolf and his wife, Frances, whom he met in college and married in 1975, have two adult daughters, Sarah, an architect, and Katie, a geologist, both of whom also earned degrees at Dartmouth. Wolf underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer in 2016.

-Steve Straehley

To Learn More:

Gov. Tom Wolf Unveils His 2017-18 Budget (by Jan Murphy, Harrisburg Patriot-News)

The Unlikely Governor (by Julia M. Klein, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine)

Tom Wolf: Perfect Stranger (by Steve Volk, Philadelphia)

Tom Wolf Seeks to Bring Small-Town Ethos to Gubernatorial Race (by Thomas Fitzgerald, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Official Biography


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