Greg Farrington and I first met at the then-new Perkins restaurant on the South Side of Bethlehem. Needless to say, there was a lot of newness that day--between me being a first-year councilman, Greg being the new president of Lehigh, and Perkins being new to the South Side.
That wasn't all that was new that day. Greg came to Perkins with fresh ideas and a boundless energy--it couldn't be chalked up to Perkins' coffee, I'd soon learn--for building a strong relationship between Lehigh University and the South Side.
In the past, the relationship between Lehigh University and the South Side hadn't been the best. It had been described, quite accurately, as two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that didn't quite fit together. Before Greg arrived, Lehigh--in my opinion--viewed its areas of growth as being exclusively up the mountain, not in the downtown.
Greg saw things differently. He firmly believed that South Bethlehem's downtown had to be more vibrant in order for Lehigh to be more vibrant. And from the day I met him at Perkins, Greg has been completely dedicated to making improvements on the South Side.
Thanks to Greg's leadership, energy, and vision, the South Side has undergone a renaissance over the past eight years.
One important piece of the jigsaw puzzle was Campus Square. Before the addition of Campus Square, those areas were parking lots that acted as moats or barriers between Lehigh's campus and the South Side. Campus Square, literally, connects Lehigh with the South Side.
That's just one of countless ways that Greg built a true connection between Lehigh and the South Side. Another was extending Lehigh's Gold Card Plus program to include restaurants and businesses all over the South Side. That simple step encouraged Lehigh students and staff to eat in the restaurants and to shop in the stores along Third and Fourth StreetsÑgiving the restaurants and stores a better chance of succeeding while making South Bethlehem more of a real college town.
The Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) program is another notable success. He wanted to create a knowledge zone, in which the university was an incubator for start-up companies to keep some of Lehigh's best and brightest minds in the Lehigh Valley, and KIZ has done that. The university also works closely with the elementary and middle schools on the South Side to get young kids excited about a career in the sciences--yet another example of Greg's push to make Lehigh a good neighbor to residents of the South Side.
As a college president, Greg's tenure was a success no matter what measure is used in higher education--whether it's attracting students with higher SAT scores, attracting and retaining world-class faculty members, or increasing Lehigh's endowment and its research dollars.
From my vantage point as the mayor of Bethlehem, the lasting legacy of Greg and Jean, who is a force in her own right, will be the relationship that they created between this fine university and the people on the South Side. They're leaving both Lehigh and the South Side much better places than when they arrived--just like Greg promised that day I first met him at Perkins.
John Callahan is the mayor of Bethlehem. Callahan and Greg Farrington were honored at a recent University of Pennsylvania forum on best practices in town-gown relations.
Next: A revitalized campus
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin