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K. Roald Bergethon, who served 20 years as 12th president of Lafayette, died early this morning at Easton Hospital at age 86. His administration, 1958-78, was a period of extraordinary growth in academic quality, financial strength, and physical facilities at the College.
He is survived by his wife, Kay, the former Katherine Lind, with whom he celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in April; two sons, Bruce L. and his wife, Jo Porter, of Bloomington, Ill., and Dr. Peter R. and his wife, Dr. Cindy Bergethon, of Dover, Mass.; brother, Odvard (Ed) of Simsbury, Conn.; and three granddaughters, Hannah, Katherine and Kristin.
Kay was an esteemed First Lady of the College during Bergethon’s administration and received an honorary degree from Lafayette, as did her husband, in 1978.
Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20, in Colton Chapel. A viewing will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, at Ashton Funeral Home, 14th & Northampton Sts., Easton. A campus memorial service celebrating the life of Lafayette’s 12th president is being planned for 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, in Colton Chapel. Details will be provided as information becomes available.
“Roald Bergethon is a pre-eminent figure in the history of Lafayette and holds a place of honor among all those who have served this great College,” said Lafayette President Arthur J. Rothkopf ’55. “It would be difficult to overstate the positive impact of his leadership in advancing this institution on all fronts. As president for two decades he elevated the College to heights it had never known previously, and his many contributions as trustee emeritus and dear friend in the quarter century since his administration played a key role in the College’s continued upward trajectory.”
Bergethon presided during a time of social change on campus and in the nation and the world. He guided Lafayette’s transition from an all-male college to a coeducational institution; the first women were admitted in September 1970. In the same year the Board of Trustees elected its first woman member, first African-American member, and youngest member ever (three years removed from graduation).
Foremost among the accomplishments of Bergethon’s presidency were advances in academic quality and prestige. Increases in faculty compensation were instrumental in strengthening Lafayette’s ability to attract and retain outstanding teacher-scholars, and the percentage of faculty holding doctorates or other terminal degrees rose sharply during his administration.
The College’s financial strength was greatly enhanced under Bergethon, with the value of the endowment growing from just over $20 million to $50 million. His ability to inspire generous giving to Lafayette was seen early in his administration when the College raised $2 million to build Skillman Library, a feat that “many influential alumni,” as Bergethon put it, doubted could be done. Among other fundraising successes he led a campaign to raise more than $5 million to enable the College to qualify for a $2 million challenge grant from the Ford Foundation and spearheaded the “On Lafayette!” Campaign, 1967-74, which raised $25.6 million to improve facilities and add to the endowment.
The growth in Lafayette’s academic, residential, and recreational facilities in the Bergethon era was remarkable.
Foremost among academic buildings constructed in his administration is Skillman Library, which remains Lafayette’s main library and is currently in the final stages of a major expansion and renovation. Kunkel Hall, home of the biology program, and Dana Hall of Engineering, part of Lafayette’s engineering complex that was recently renovated and dedicated as Acopian Engineering Center, were also built. Pardee Hall was renovated as a center for several departments and programs in the humanities and social sciences following a move of the College’s administrative offices to their present location in Markle Hall.
New student residences included Marquis Hall, which also houses a dining hall, the first such facility on campus large enough to accommodate the entire first-year class; Watson Courts, Ruef Hall, and Farber Hall. Easton Hall was renovated, and McKeen Hall’s capacity was expanded.
Allan P. Kirby Field House, dedicated in 1973, was another major addition to campus and is now part of the magnificent Allan P. Kirby Sports Center. The College purchased 244 acres of land in Forks Township, three miles north of the main campus, and established the Metzgar Athletic Campus. MacCracken Varsity House at Metzgar was constructed and later expanded to provide facilities for women. Bailey Health Center was also constructed.
Lafayette’s dramatic improvements in faculty and facilities under Bergethon helped the College increase enrollment and achieve notable gains in student quality and admissions selectivity. At a time when admissions standards were being elevated – a move endorsed by faculty and trustees alike – the student body expanded from 1,500 to more than 2,000. Applications for the first-year class exceeded 4,000 for the first time in 1978.
Bergethon succeeded Ralph Cooper Hutchinson as president of Lafayette, coming to the College from Brown University, where he was dean of the college and professor of German. Born June 8, 1918, in Tromso, Norway, Bergethon came to the United States in 1926 and became a naturalized citizen in 1930. He earned a bachelor’s degree at DePauw University and master’s and doctoral degrees at Cornell University. His scholarly works include the textbook Grammar for Reading German, published in 1950 with an alternate edition published in 1963 and a revised edition in 1979.
Bergethon received honorary doctorates from Allegheny College, Bloomfield College, Brown, DePauw, Franklin and Marshall College, Gannon University, Muhlenberg College, Lehigh University, New England College, Rutgers University, Temple University, and Waynesburg College in addition to Lafayette.
He served as president of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities, and Presbyterian College Union. He was a trustee of the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, Princeton, N.J. He was vice chairman of the Economic Development Council of New York City and executive director of the National Alliance of Business of New York City.
His local community service activities during his presidency included membership on the boards of United Fund of Easton; Greater Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Planning Council; Northampton County Community Council; Delaware Valley Area Council, Boy Scouts of America; and Easton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Succeeded as Lafayette’s president by David W. Ellis, Bergethon was a trustee emeritus at the College from 1978 until his death. Lafayette named the large student dining area in Marquis Hall in his honor. The Presidents’ Room in Farinon College Center honors the service of both Bergethon and Ellis.
Bergethon served as interim president, then president, of New England College (1981-85), and as interim president of Bloomfield College (1986-87) and Wells College (1987-88).