“Why I Remain Close to Lehigh” is a collection of feature stories about Lehigh University alumni volunteers and their motivation to stay involved with their alma mater. The group of alumni were interviewed by Klaudia Jazwinska ’18 and Carina Bonasera ’19.
After Louis R. Girke graduated from Lehigh in 1955, he and his wife, Patricia, wanted to stay involved with the university and began volunteering with organizing Reunions for his class. Every five years, they would host a party at their home for classmates on the Thursday before Reunion Weekend. This tradition lasted from 1965 to 1995 and helped keep the closeness of the group together. It also inspired in Patricia a lifelong commitment to Lehigh.
“The Class of 1955 is close because we tailgate together, like to work on and go to Reunions together, and have a great love and support for Lehigh. After almost 65 years, we are like family,” said Patricia.
Louis, who earned his Lehigh degree in metallurgy and materials engineering, had been a supervisor at Bethlehem Steel Corporation. As a student, he participated in the ROTC program and had a strong affiliation with his fraternity, Sigma Nu.
“With his metallurgical background, it was natural that he go into metal work, and it was his education that prepared him,” said Patricia.
Louis passed away in 1995, but Patricia, who still lives in Bethlehem, keeps the connection to Lehigh strong.
Among her fondest memories is chairing a group called Women who are Widows of Lehigh (WWOL). Patricia said the purpose of the organization was to “keep the women involved who wanted to be involved with Lehigh.” She hosted picnics at her house every year and invited the members to a swim party.
“They always had a great time,” she said. “It was fun.”
It was through her work with WWOL that Patricia became a member of Lehigh’s alumni board. She also got involved with volunteering for Reunion every year and has done so faithfully since 1995. She’s attended at least 25 Reunions.
“Why do I make it a tradition? It’s inborn in me. It’s natural to do it,” she said.
During Reunions, Patricia and her companion, Ken Hendrix ’55, work together at the front desk in the Alumni Memorial Building.
“I see lots of friends at the Reunions – too numerous to mention,” she laughed.
Besides volunteering, Patricia and Ken are also very socially involved with Lehigh. They attend football games, basketball games, and wrestling matches, as well as shows and student productions at Zoellner Arts Center.
She said that what keeps people coming back is a “strong feeling” for Lehigh.
“As you get older, the Class of ’55 will soon have its 65th reunion, and the class gets smaller and smaller. It’s so vital to get the remaining classmates back…to reunite with them.”