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Dr. Lewis E. Thayne

 

Lewis Evitts Thayne is a lifelong learner who recalls with affection his early memories of classmates, classrooms, lessons, and recess: "I loved learning and I loved school, from the very beginning." Thayne's quest for education has led him from a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania, to Princeton, New Jersey, New York City, Atlanta, and now to Lebanon Valley College, where he encourages every student to cultivate a passion and an enthusiasm for learning.

"An education is invaluable. It is the gateway to a better life, no matter how you define that," he says. Thayne tells his three children—Anthony, Julia, and Anne— that their educational goal should be: "become an interesting person, so you will never reach your limits, never be bored with yourself." Thayne believes that a great education should include finding a mentor, developing a talent, and making friends for life. He tells the story of attending a musical competition, Concerto Aria, at Lebanon Valley only to realize the next day that the winner (an incredible vocalist) was a student worker in his office. "If you didn’t know about her talent, it would have been easy to underestimate Cassie [Diaz]. You can never know what talents any student has inside, what they have not yet found a stage for."

Thayne credits acclaimed classicist and professor, Robert Fagles, with influencing his life and serving as a mentor. Fagles’ modern verse translation of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey encompassed skills as a poet and as an academic. The two met in graduate school when Thayne studied comparative literature at Princeton where Fagles chaired the department. "What does a mentor give you? They point the way, often without you realizing it. They give you confidence. It is not like a parent or an older sibling. It is a very different relationship."

Fagles and his other professors made possible one of the transforming moments in Thayne’s life. More than a decade after leaving Princeton, after marrying his wife, Dorry, and raising three children, Thayne completed his dissertation and his doctorate. "Standing with Dorry and our three children in my academic robes and blue doctoral hood was a moment of completion and satisfaction for me." Fagles later handed Thayne a copy of his translation of The Odyssey. "Bob understood fully how important this moment was for me."

Thayne grew up on a street called Park Place in the small town of Kingston, Pennsylvania. "My mother was very kind. She was very confident socially. She was involved in all sorts of volunteer activities." His father graduated from high school, joined the Navy, and returned eventually to his job at Westinghouse Elevator in Scranton following World War II. After retiring from a career that took him to a management position in Philadelphia, Thayne's father died last year at age 105. Thayne points out that his father read all of his life. "He retained and synthesized information tremendously well. Knowledge was an asset for him, an important possession to be used every day," Thayne says. 

Originally, when he came to Lancaster to work at Franklin & Marshall with John Fry, Thayne felt very strongly that he could make a difference there. Now as president at Lebanon Valley College he can see vividly the transformative power of an education.  “Lebanon Valley emphasizes the use of knowledge in the world and the capacity of education to change lives. That is a powerful, relevant mission.” Thayne embodies Lebanon Valley College’s vision for the future: to pursue a life of learning, citizenship, and success.

Q&A

What do you do on friday nights? If there is no game or college event?

Then, that’s easy: absolutely nothing.

What inspires you?

The faces of my students. I see the possibilities in every one of them. I can also see the effort they are expending, the pressure they feel to do it all. They are the ones carrying dreams and aspirations but also carrying the expectations of family and of themselves. They are the ones that inspire me and others to work very hard.  I could not be happy if I didn't think I was doing my utmost to help them succeed.

What's a new tradition that you've started at LVC?

The day before classes start the entire first-year class walks from campus up to the president's house [Kreiderheim]. At Kreiderheim, Dorry and I host a picnic and greet each new student individually. It's a way of connecting with each student and to share the president's house. A class photo is taken and many, many selfies.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would it be?

In high school, I was sure I wanted to be an architect. I saw photographs of Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Building and I thought—Amazing, how does anyone envision this, and then make it happen? Later, in college, I thought I would love to be a writer, like John McPhee.

What is your dream vacation?

A walking tour of the Alps. Dorry and I love to walk in beautiful places. But we wouldn't mind having our bags carried from inn to inn, with gourmet meals waiting, and interesting people to talk with at the end of the day.

Advice you would share?

Keep going.The landscape changes as you move ahead. I also think of the counsel of the ancient Greeks: moderation in all things. I am not comfortable at the extremes - socially, politically, in religion, or in any way. I try to remain centered.  That has become more difficult than it used to be.


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