Bobb Carson had the vision to build a "mighty mechanical midget motor car" in the land of Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, and he had the vision to build a mighty College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Lehigh University on South Mountain.
And now, with the motor car he built at the precocious age of 12 in the Smithsonian and his college "much more than pretty good," as they’re fond of saying in Lake Wobegone, Carson is ready to retire.
To show their appreciation for Carson’s 30 years at Lehigh, his CAS colleagues paid a surprise tribute to him on Friday, April 25 in a display of artfulness, creativity, and intellectual vitality that characterizes his college.
"In the spirit of Bobb, we wanted to do something lighthearted and fun," said Norman Girardot, professor of religious studies, who helped organize the unorthodox event that was attended by more than 200 friends and supporters in Zoellner Arts Center.
Other organizers from the CAS included Hannah Stewart-Gambino, associate dean and professor of political science; Carl Moses, associate dean; Ingrid Parson, associate dean of the graduate research program; Phil Clauser, director of administration; Gordon Bearn, professor of humanities; Amy Forsyth, associate professor of art and architecture; and Doug Mason, professor of practice in art and architecture.
`The czar of the arts’
Lighthearted and fun it was, and Carson appeared genuinely surprised and touched by the personal tribute. The event consisted of a Garrison Keillor-style, Lake Wobegone slide presentation to honor Carson, from his days bundled in a snowsuit in the town of Edina, Minn. to his years as a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Lehigh, to the time he spent as dean of Lehigh’s largest college.
Highlights included a joint presentation by Bearn and Nicola Tannenbaum, professor of sociology and anthropology, who tackled the mystery of the "three Bs" in Carson's first name. There was an entertaining video of the "mighty midget motor car" called the "Bobbsel," that Carson built at age 12 and which has been on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. since 1995. The presentation was scored by piano medleys played by Justin Solonynka '96, a former math major.
To help guide Carson down memory lane, Forsyth presented him with a collection of written sentiments from his friends and family, bound in a leather volume she created.
"Considering the generosity, support and sense of humor I describe in these pages, I understand why you're all so appreciative of Bobb," said Forsyth.
Marvin Simmons, design director in university relations, presented Carson with a poster he created in Carson’s honor that celebrates the retiring dean's Swedish-American heritage and broadly illustrates the various principles that have characterized Carson's career at Lehigh: research, teaching, scholarship, humanity, academics, and administration.
"I designed the poster for someone I care about and respect very much," Simmons said.
Following the presentation, CAS faculty members paraded through the crowd dressed in robes, kilts, and Mardi Gras masks. Ricardo Viera, professor of art, carried a Snoopy doll, which he presented to Carson as a token of his appreciation to "the czar of the arts."
Tough shoes to fill
Guests at the reception, including fellow deans, faculty members, and administrators, generously praised Carson.
"Bobb was always practical and straightforward—you always knew where you stood with him, which was very refreshing," said Anne Meltzer, professor of earth and environmental science. "He had a lot of vision for the College of Arts and Sciences."
When asked what qualities the new dean will need to follow in Carson's footsteps, Meltzer replied, "A lot of stamina."
Jean Farrington, Linderman Library Project Liaison in the Development Office, noted how well Carson united the two diverse worlds of arts and sciences: "The College of Arts and Sciences, no matter where you are, is a challenging college," said Farrington, who added that Carson faced the task of balancing diverse disciplines. And on top of that, he enjoyed good working partnerships with the deans of the other colleges. Carson's shoes will be tough ones to fill."
Journalism professor and new department chair Wally Trimble will remember Carson on a personal level as well as a professional one.
"I will always remember the Christmas cookie parties at Bobb's house in Coopersburg," Trimble said. "I think Bobb's wife, Joan, made the cookies, though."
Jack Lule, professor of journalism and communications, credited Carson for the expansion of the journalism department. "Before he was dean, we were in the basement of the University Center, and now we have our space at Coppee Hall. Bobb has been extremely supportive of our department," he said.
To lure Carson to the surprise reception and tribute, Clauser concocted what he referred to as a "crisis situation."
"But as soon as we got close and he heard the crowd, Carson said, 'You're not taking me to a crisis--you're taking me to a reception!'" Clauser said. As he entered, a shocked Carson was greeted with cheers and applause.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Carson took the stage and thanked his colleagues at Lehigh. "It's been my pleasure to work with all of you, and I want to thank you all," he said.
He ended with a vow to spend his newfound leisure hours working on his house in Coopersburg and "getting a life."