Mentor. Donor. Builder. Historian. John Pierce ’81 could go by many things. Twitter
By Stephen Wilson
Ask John Pierce ’81 when he became a Yankees fan, and he credits (or lays blame at, depending on your perspective) Lafayette.
Born in the Lehigh Valley and raised in Easton during his early years by a family loyal to Pittsburgh teams, Pierce says, “I married a Jersey girl, moved to New York City, and worked for a company that constructed the new stadium. You learn to transition.”
Transition could be his middle name. He has witnessed a few. A segregated Lafayette campus became more diverse and an unsafe Easton community renewed its downtown. He’s also experienced some, being a guy who once saw Lafayette as his last choice go on to earn its highest award for distinguished service by an alumnus in 2019.
That Was Then
As the son of Alfred Pierce, a beloved professor of economics, Pierce was familiar with the campus well before he decided to attend. His first memory is at age 5 or 6, standing on the sidelines of a football practice.
That was when the College was half the size and all male. It was the 1960s, and Easton was changing. “The Dixie plant soon sold, and all the executives left their houses on College Hill,” he says. His family also moved north, close to Blue Mountain. “There was an exodus, and soon stores closed downtown.” When he was a student, things hadn’t changed much. Downtown then was considered unsafe.
As a teen, he remembers being invited to dinner at a Greek house. In those days it meant wearing a jacket and tie. “But Jewish members then could only pledge Pi Lamda Phi, and there were no black members as Sigma Chi Phi had lost their charter for pledging a black student,” he says.
His meal that night was at Phi Psi; little did he know then he’d pledge that same fraternity several years later.
Despite his life, status, and experiences on campus, Lafayette was Pierce’s last choice. He wanted to attend Carnegie Mellon for architecture.
“I was a senior in high school and needed to commit to a college soon,” he says. “I was standing in my father’s office in Pardee looking out of his window over the Quad. It was the quintessential spring day, and I asked myself, ‘Why are you looking anywhere else?’”
He joined as a first-year student in 1977, the seventh class with women—nearly 30% of his class were women and 25% in his civil engineering major.
But there was another reason he committed to Lafayette, one that took later to form and strikes much deeper.
It was the week before Homecoming, and everyone was scrubbing their houses prior to board meetings. On the big day, alumni wearing suits and ties rolled into town in impressive vehicles. He’d watch them go into a closed room to discuss business.
“At noon, the doors would open, and these same alumni would tailgate on March Field,” he says.
Tailgating then was a more opulent affair with silver, crystal, tablecloths, and jackets and dresses.
“They came back like this every year and sometimes every game,” he says. “They modeled what it meant to be an alum here. That’s why I have given so much.”
So if transition was his middle name early in his life at Lafayette, that name turned to commitment.
Pierce graduated, married his college sweetheart (Carolyn Slingland Pierce ’81), and began work at Turner Construction. Soon he was serving the College as an alumni admissions representative, then transitioned to leadership council and alumni council. He sat on the Buildings and Ground Committee, working on the strategic growth plan for campus. A Fleck and Marquis Society member, he has gifted the College with scholarships honoring his father and supporting engineering students from underrepresented groups.
His service to his fraternity has never wavered as he served the chapter board as an officer and helped renovate the house on campus (an approach that became a national model used by other chapters).
Just when you think there is nothing more to give, he does, forming ACE (architecture, construction, and engineering) programs in area high schools and serving on the New York board and as national council chair.
Like his devotion to the Bronx Bombers, this service is credited to Lafayette.
“Vince Viscomi [Simon Cameron Long Professor Emeritus of civil and environmental engineering] taught me mentorship,” says Pierce. “I was not the best student but took a heavy course load. Vince cared for all of his students. He personified what a person, professor, and professional should be. I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps.”
Like Viscomi, Pierce has mentored, having students shadow and intern at his businesses and recruiting heavily from graduating seniors.
“It was a privilege to be brought up on this campus, so it’s important I recognize that,” says Pierce. “My wife and I want to pass that experience on to others.”
Together they are involved in the New York and New Jersey alumni chapters, participating in cross-generational social activities. “While Lafayette has evolved, it still has the size and rigor that makes the graduates feel just like us,” he says. “As alumni, we want to have a strong and consistent presence.”
It’s what made the 150th rivalry game so special to him. “It was four days of bedlam,” he says. “Just magical events and connections. It was one of the best weekends of my life.”
Best part? It was played in Yankee Stadium, a place he’s grown to love.