(continued...)

Armed with his degree in architecture, Heyl joined with two other men in Allentown to form Heyl, Bond and Miller. One of the first buildings the firm worked on was the original building at the Allentown Airport. The firm also worked on hundreds of other projects in the Lehigh Valley, including many Lutheran churches and a number of local schools, but Heyl hadn’t finished with Muhlenberg. He was soon recruited to change the Allentown Prep School building into a women’s dorm.

“I did the remodeling of Brown Hall and I also worked on Prosser Hall, which was originally built as a women’s dorm,” Heyl remembered. “I was the architect for the Field House, remodeled the President’s house and I also built the fraternity house for Alpha Epsilon Pi.”

From top:
President's House
Brown Hall
Prosser Hall
Heyl in 1928

But Heyl hadn’t only come back to Muhlenberg as an architect. The Second World War brought a new group of students to Muhlenberg: officers in the Marines. Heyl taught engineering drawing for two and a half years to officers who were being sent abroad.

“I taught men who were going to be in the Marines,” Heyl said. “They were sent to Muhlenberg to be given a special quick education. But by the end of my two and a half years of teaching, some of them were already dead.”

Since then, Heyl has served as a member of the Board of Trustees and has known every President of Muhlenberg since Dr. Haas (that’s right, think of Haas tower). He’s been to Muhlenberg a few times in the past ten years, but keeps mostly to his home in East Boothbay, Maine, where he lives with his wife. His youngest son, Tony, graduated from Muhlenberg in 1972, participating in a family tradition that extends back well over 100 years. Tony lives in Maine as well and sees his father on a regular basis, as they take almost-daily walks together. According to Tony, his father is even familiar with many plants’ Latin names. He attributes this knowledge to an absence of television and a love of reading.

“We are in different leagues,” Tony continues. “His [league] being more advanced than mine. He reads constantly, mostly non-fiction.” Heyl met Muhlenberg’s current president, Randy Helm, when Helm attended an alumni function in Maine.

“Given that John combines Muhlenberg brains with Maine fortitude, I wasn’t surprised to find him sharp of wit and spry of body. He fully lives up to his legendary status as a primary architecht of this beautiful campus we are privileged to call home.”

Heyl’s connections with Muhlenberg have worn thin. Every one of his classmates, teachers, and friends at Muhlenberg have passed away. But his age seems to have had little effect on the status of his mind, however.

“I’m still doing a lot of reading,” he says. “New books are always being published. I recently read a biography of Bach; I had never read about the fellow. Science still interests me, particularly when it has to do with life. All of us are going to survive because of what science really discovers that it hasn’t discovered in the past.”

Heyl’s scientific interests also culminate on the walks that he takes with his son.

“Here’s a great conversation I had with him on one of these walks,” Tony prefaces. “We were walking along a road that we had walked every day for the last week and I noticed down a steep incline that a shrub had been pruned. I said, ’Dad, someone pruned the shrub down there,’ and he said, ’Oh, I did that. It’s a horse chestnut and I recognized the leaves; it probably came from the Tuilleries Gardens.”

Heyl went on to describe in detail how General Lafayette found horse chestnut trees after he’d returned to France after the Revolutionary War, and sent some to President Washington. The story, he said, proved how the horse chestnut spread across the continental United States.

Tony asked Heyl what he did with the cutting, to which he replied, “Oh, I planted that one.”

“He’s the most erudite individual I have ever met in my life,” Tony says. “He recognizes every plant, every bird, every amphibian or reptile that we encounter on our walks.”

Heyl’s career at Muhlenberg as a student may be long over, but it’s clear that he continues to and will always be a student of life. His passion for learning has taken him on a long and winding journey, one that surely exemplifies what Muhlenberg College might hope for every one of its students. And while his daily walks aren’t up and down Academic Row, it’s sure that the memories he created with Muhlenberg are always with him.

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