The party was winding down, and the guest of honor, bending slightly from the waist with his hands wrapped around an imaginary golf club, was sharing a final lesson.
“It’s all in the head,” Ron Yoshida said to a well-wisher with whom he had played golf over the years. “Stay in the plane, and don’t extend your arms too much.”
It was a typical moment for the former provost and dean, who retired this spring after 17 years of service to the university.
Yoshida arrived at Lehigh in 1996, spent four years as dean of the College of Education, four more as university provost and nine as professor of educational leadership.
He led, or helped lead, a wide variety of endeavors, expanding the university’s global outreach, renovating its venerable landmarks and wiring the campus.
But the 200 guests—members of the faculty and staff and former students—who crowded into the rotunda of Linderman Library for his farewell party remembered Yoshida most fondly for his insatiable appetite for learning, for his ability to bring people together and for his innumerable personal touches.
“Ron Yoshida has been an example of what it means to live life to the fullest and to be a good steward of the gifts that you’re given,” said Michael G. Makhoul, director of educational operations for the Allentown School District, who earned an M.Ed. from Lehigh in 2005.
“He has challenged and inspired so many people and taught us not to be afraid to stretch beyond our comfort zone.”
20/20 vision, and a long-awaited renovation
Bruce Taggart, vice provost for library and technology services (LTS), credited Yoshida with helping implement the 20/20 initiative, a $75 million institutional investment in academic programs.
Other programs launched under Yoshida’s leadership included a disaster recovery plan, the Banner information system, the Clipper project allowing admitted Lehigh freshmen to take web-based courses while still in high school, the My Lehigh portal and the $20 million renovation of Linderman Library.
“Linderman Library is the geographic center of the campus and the crossroads of Lehigh’s past and future,” Taggart said. “Its renovation had been discussed for 30 years. Ron played a big role in the transformation that finally occurred.”
Perry A. Zirkel, University Professor of Education and Law, noted that those attending Yoshida’s retirement party included professors from all four colleges; representatives from student affairs, advancement and LTS; administrative coordinators, dining services workers and more.
“The fact that there are people here from every nook and cranny of the university shows that Ron left an indelible mark on Lehigh,” said Zirkel.
Grading pizzas as well as students
A decade or so ago, Zirkel and Yoshida anointed themselves the “Pizza Professors” and began making unannounced visits to local pizzerias, grading pies for taste, foldability and topping size, and for performance in their unpatented “droop and drip” test.
“We brought faculty members, grad students and undergrads along to review these places,” said Zirkel. “Ron was the only person I recall who ever included fennel content in his critique.
“Ron was the sine qua non of deans,” Zirkel continued. “He was the great facilitator who helped us achieve what we wanted to achieve as a college. He put our college on the map nationally and internationally and he started our global programs. And he was the best schmoozer in the world.”
Yoshida’s wife, Sharon, played an active role alongside him in many of his endeavors, party guests said. Sharon Yoshida served as practicum supervisor for the College of Education’s Educational Leadership program and on the board of directors of the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries. She currently volunteers at the Lehigh University Art Galleries.
“Ron and Sharon married Lehigh,” said Zirkel. “Whether you went to a faculty or student event, an athletic event or the opera, they were there. They were dedicated 24/7 to Lehigh.”
An enduring “wonderment of place”
“You all have given me great stories and great memories,” Yoshida said. “Martin Harmer [professor of materials science and engineering] taught me what microscopy is and how to pronounce it. Paul Salerni [professor of music] helped me discover Mozart’s opera Marriage of Figaro. Neal Simon [professor of biological sciences] showed me a confocal microscope.
“And I’ll never forget playing the timpani for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto when Paul Chou was conductor of the Lehigh Philharmonic.
“These were fabulous opportunities!”
Yoshida handed out boxes of Tallarico’s chocolates to many of the people he said had made his job easier. He named each person: Eileen Gorzelic, executive secretary to the provost; Stacey Shillinger, director of stewardship and principal gifts in the office of advancement; Kathleen Riedy, coordinator in the office of the dean in the College of Business and Economics; Linda Mery, administrative director in the provost’s office; Gloria Jedinak, administrative coordinator in the office of university communications; Tamara Bartolet, director of marketing and communications in the College of Education, and Mary Yotter and Donna Ball, coordinators in the department of education and human services.
The former provost also singled out Raymond Bell, University Service Professor Emeritus of Education and Human Services, who interviewed Yoshida before he was appointed dean of the education college in 1996.
“All of you have given me such wonderment of place, such spirit, such heart and great texture,” he said. “This is a wonderful community.”
Also receiving gifts from Yoshida were Marilyn Helfrich and Maryann Fulop, who work with dining services.
“Ron has always treated us like we’re on the same level he is,” said Helfrich. “One time we were joking with him, and we told him he should take us to lunch one day. He did. He took all of us to a nice restaurant in Bethlehem.”
The day after his retirement party, Yoshida flew to the Middle East with AdvancED, an international organization that accredits schools. He chaired one team and co-chaired another team of educators who are reviewing schools in Beirut, Lebanon, and Jedda, Saudi Arabia.
He has returned in time for the university’s commencement on May 20 to watch Ibtesam Hussain of Saudi Arabia, the 38th doctoral student whose dissertation committee he chaired, receive her Ed.D. in educational leadership.
Photos by Christa Neu