Amidst the largest collection of Pierre-Auguste Renoir paintings in the world, more than 250 members of Lehigh University’s Asa Packer Society gathered at an exclusive event on September 22 to view the expansive art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes at the newly relocated Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.
Barnes, a physician who started collecting artwork from 1912 until his death in 1951, established the Barnes Foundation in 1992 “for the purpose of ‘promot[ing] the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts.’” During that time, he amassed a large range of impressive works that included paintings by Matisse and Cézanne and early Chinese sculptures to masks from the late 19th Century and Native American pottery and jewelry. The collection was originally displayed throughout Barnes’ Lower Merion, PA, home.
Joseph Kender Jr. ’87, ’93G, ’16P, vice president of advancement, welcomed the Asa Packer Society members and their families, and introduced Mark Mills, the executive director of individual giving at the Barnes Foundation.
“Like Lehigh, the Barnes Foundation is an educational institution,” said Mills, who was pleased to host members of the Asa Packer Society.
Transforming Lives Through the Arts was the theme for the evening, with faculty expert Hyun-Tae “H.T.” Jung, assistant professor of architecture, speaking about the comparable transformations of both students and architecture.
“The transformation of students is not after the [educational] experience itself, but in how the experience manifests itself,” said Jung, who received the 2011 Stabler Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.
During the gallery tours, Lehigh students were stationed in each room of the museum to help guide alumni through the new venue made to resemble Dr. Barnes’ home. Many attendees were in awe over how the Foundation was able to replicate the two-story space, down to the desks and benches, wall color and window placement.
Mills commented that within only 120 days of opening its doors at the easier-to-access location, the Barnes Foundation received more than double the amount of attendees than the preceding location received in an entire year.
Lyubov Yankovskaya ’14, member of the university’s Lehigh Liners, said, “My favorite part about tonight was talking to alumni, learning about their college degrees and seeing where they are now. It gives insight into what students can do with their education.”
Attending events like the Barnes Foundation museum tour are a perk for Asa Packer Society members, but many feel the greatest benefit is the satisfaction of giving back.
Robin Shatto Labiak ’88 was a second semester senior when her funds ran dry.
“I could have dropped out and got a job, but I decided to go to the bursar’s office to ask for a loan,” said Labiak, who was majoring in industrial engineering. “When I got there, the assistant bursar asked how much I needed. When she got out a checkbook and started writing, I was thinking, ‘Yes! I’m getting the loan.’ The woman handed me the check and said, ‘This is not a loan, it is a gift. Please pay it back after you graduate.’”
Labiak, who attended the event with her husband Eric ’86, industrial engineering, said it was because of her experience at the Bursar’s office that she was able to finish her degree. She said this is what inspired her to be a part of the Asa Packer Society and wishes she could find that assistant bursar so she can thank her properly.
“[Eric and I] were both financial aid students, so I told him we needed to give back to the school,” she explained.
While many Lehigh alumni do not have such moving stories that motivate their giving, many support their alma mater because they feel it is the right thing to do.
Norman Strate, who graduated from Lehigh in 1962 with an accounting degree, said, “No matter what you do in life, it is important to give back. Education is one of those things, in my mind, which could change the world.”
Meeting alumni like Labiak and Strate was what many of the students hoped for when they were presented with the opportunity to attend the Asa Packer Society event.
John Anderson ’13 said, “Alumni are a huge part of the university and it is fun to hear their stories. Not to mention, because we have such a large alumni base, it is also a great opportunity to network.”
Lauren Christman ’13 added, “Lehigh is so rooted in tradition. It is great to hear and compare what Lehigh was like when these alumni were there.”
Robert Hirsch ’58 reflected on what was happening in his life when he was a student.
“When I was a sophomore, my dad’s business was not doing well. I applied for a scholarship and I got it. I don’t know if my playing soccer and baseball had anything to do with it. When I graduated in 1958, I was asked to give $50 a year for 10 years. I wanted to give back and that was my chance.”
Hirsch has since elevated his level of giving to become a member of the Asa Packer Society. The impact of his gift, and those of all Asa Packer Society members, helps support the incredible learning and living environment at Lehigh. Unless otherwise directed, gifts support scholarship and financial aid to help the best and the brightest students attend Lehigh, regardless of their economic situation.
Both Barnes and Asa Packer were pioneers in their support of education. Because members of the Asa Packer Society embody this same goal, Lehigh students, including those in attendance that night, can benefit from the best educational experience possible.
For more information on the Asa Packer Society and upcoming events, please view www.lehigh.edu/asapackersociety