By Jen Epting ’03

John Heyl, class of 1928, has proven that, even more than 70 years after graduating, a Muhlenberg student can continuously seek knowledge. Though Muhlenberg College lists its aims in the handbook for its students during their college career, it is the profound hope that, upon graduation, Muhlenberg’s students continue to grow towards these goals. The mission statement indicates that Muhlenberg looks to “develop independent critical thinkers who are intellectually agile,” among other desirable traits.

Heyl, who is now 98 years old, continues his love of learning today mostly by reading. But an array of opportunities has given Heyl ample opportunity to learn over his lifetime. He has certainly had a varied relationship with Muhlenberg, in which he has played the role of student, as well as teacher. He was the architect for several of the main buildings on campus, and even served on the Board of Trustees for three years. He has known Muhlenberg his entire life, as his grandfather, father and uncles all attended Muhlenberg in the late 19th century.

“I graduated in 1928,” Heyl remembers, “It was a small college then and my class had about 120 students. A lot of kids lived in the neighborhood because Muhlenberg didn’t have housing yet.”

Heyl was one of the commuting students. Having grown up in Allentown, he continued in the family tradition, but Muhlenberg’s campus looked drastically different when Heyl called himself a student.

“At the far end of the campus was a large building, which was the Allentown Prep School,” he says. “Ettinger was the building in which everything took place; it consisted of the office, the President’s office, all of the classrooms and one room big enough for an assembly. We had our gym over in the gym of the Prep School.”

Heyl’s college memories sound like a current-day listing of buildings on campus. He drops names of faculty that today’s Muhlenberg students only know as the names on buildings. Heyl took classes with Dr. Haas and Dr. Ettinger, and remembers when Dr. Shankweiler helped to prepare “the boys for medical school. He was the head of the science department,” he notes.

It was under these famous Muhlenberg professors that Heyl got his degree, an AB in business. According to him, the students were mostly hard workers, but there were the occasional distractions.

“Most of us were working pretty hard to get through with our studies,” he says. “Football of course, was an important thing. There were rules about girls even getting into the building, but I grew up in Allentown, so I knew plenty of gals in the community.”

Though he was not the first or second ranked in his class, Heyl was an excellent student. After scoring high on an exam given by the Carnegie Association shortly after his graduation from Muhlenberg, he was told that he had the “widest education of anyone at the college. I took the test again after I finished at Harvard [graduate school],” he says, “and they told me that I could have been many things, including an attorney, a medical doctor, or a minister. Apparently, I was carrying a lot of information around in my head.”

Heyl did not pursue a career in law or medicine like the test suggested he could, but rather opted for a career in architecture. He graduated in 1933 from Harvard University with a master’s in architecture, but only after taking a life-changing trip with a German professor at Muhlenberg, which extended from the Black Forest in Germany, through the Alps, and into Italy, Austria, Holland, France and England. The trip sounds like a study-abroad student’s dream, especially when it comes to finances.

“The head of the German department at that time decided to run a tour of Europe from Muhlenberg,” Heyl remembers. “We heard Mozart music in Austria, toured through Rome and Berlin, and then traveled to London, where we finally sailed home on a beautiful new German ship called the Columbus.

The whole tour cost us $800. It was a wonderful education for a guy who likes to pick up information.”

(continued...)

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