by Heidi Butler
May 14, 2013
Dr. Robert J. Kopecek, president of Northampton Community College from 1977-2003, passed away in North Carolina on April 25. Although he had been ill, his death came as a blow to the college family where he was remembered as a visionary and hard-driving leader, determined throughout his presidency to expand access to education, to foster economic development, and to make Northampton a world-class community college.
A service to celebrate Dr. Kopecek's life was held in Lipkin Theatre in Kopecek Hall on Monday, May 13. Read this story about the memorial, including a photo slideshow, by Sarah Peters of the Express-Times.
Under Dr. Kopecek's leadership, enrollment at Northampton grew from 7900 students a year to close to 25,000, and the academic offerings expanded to include programs in more than 100 fields of study. He worked closely with business and industry, leading local manufacturers to rate Northampton as the "most visible" and "most helpful" organization involved in economic development in Northampton County. Outreach to the community came to include adult literacy and English-as-a-Second language programs, Horizons for Youth, and the Art as a Way of Learning program that became a national model in early childhood education. As enrollment grew, so did the campus with the addition of Communications Hall and a child care center, the expansion of the College Center and Commonwealth Hall, and growing use of educational technology. In 1986, with private donations, Northampton became the first community college in Pennsylvania to build residence halls, enabling the student body, over time, to become more diverse, including international students.
To help more people get an education, during Dr. Kopecek's presidency Northampton began offering classes in downtown Bethlehem, in the Lehigh Valley, and in Monroe County, and to look for a site for a satellite campus on the south side of Bethlehem.
While leading the college, Dr. Kopecek also played an active role in the community, leading the movement to establish what was then the Northampton County Development Corporation, and serving on the boards or advisory committees of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, the Lehigh Valley Partnership, the Northampton County Industrial Development Authority, the Ben Franklin Partnership, and the Private Industry Council. He twice served as president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, and once as chair of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities whose membership includes almost all of the public and private colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.
He was a remarkable man. An editorial in The Express-Times at the time of his retirement described him as "a miracle worker." One in The Morning Call credited him with making Northampton and the community better places, noting that one of his gifts was recognizing "the importance of community colleges to provide near-universal access to education beyond high school" and "how vital the community college is to economic development in its supporting region."
In an interview for the college magazine in the spring of 2003, Dr. Kopecek was asked how he hoped people would remember "the Kopecek years" at NCC. Not surprisingly, his answer centered on students. "I hope [people] remember that students got a good education here, that we served them well, and that they came out proud of the institution they went to."
Feel free to share your memories of Dr. Kopecek below.
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