Last Word: A Man for All Bucknell Seasons
Bill Lenker '56 leaves a long and lasting love and legacy.
By Mary Ann Sigler Stanton ’89
On an early fall day in 2007, Bill Lenker ’56 was spotted kneeling on the ground in front of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He and his wife, Carol Wanamaker Lenker ’57, were planting mums in preparation for the newly re-colonized chapter to take residence. Lenker, known as “Doc” to generations of Kappa Sigmas, was tenacious in his pursuit of re-establishing the fraternity on campus.
Kappa Sigma is close to Carol’s heart too, as the couple met there in 1956. As a junior resident, Carol escorted “her girls” from Bucknell Cottage to the fraternity for a “Freshman Tea.” “Those boys were smart,” chuckles Carol as she recounts the story. “They invited the freshman girls in small hall groups. Bill was the president, bouncing everywhere, making sure everyone was enjoying themselves.” Soon after the tea, Bill asked Carol out on their first date — a movie at the Campus Theatre.
Upon graduating, Lenker became a volunteer for Kappa Sigma, the Alumni Greek Council and the Alumni Board. He and Carol married in 1958 and were thrilled when all three of their children — Rob Lenker ’81, Nancy Lenker Topolski ’88 and Susan Lenker Hitchings ’84 — became Bucknellians. Rob, Nancy and Susan also married Bucknellians, Lisa Molke Lenker, Alan Topolski ’86 and Brian Hitchings ’84, respectively. So far, two Lenker grandchildren, Heather Lenker ’12 and Emily Hitchings ’16, have followed in the family tradition.
Lenker’s legacy did not end with his offspring. He and Carol believed that anyone should be able to attend Bucknell, and endowed a need-based scholarship to that end. A dentist by trade, Doc provided Bucknell internships at a dental clinic in West Chester, Pa., even housing several of the student interns at the Lenker home. Helping students realize their potential was what motivated them. In 2006, when the cheerleading squad needed new uniforms and the Dance Company was invited to China to perform, the Lenkers made both happen.
Tireless in his advocacy for the Bucknell Public Interest Program, Doc spread the word to students and alumni alike about these scholarships, which provide stipends to students who intern at nonprofits. He also volunteered at home in Paoli, Pa., serving as den leader to decades of Boy Scouts, and was the driving force behind buying land and building a log cabin on it for area scouts.
Doc worked full-time at his dental practice with his son, Rob, until he was ordered by his doctor to stop. His diagnosis of aplastic anemia in 2010 put him at great risk of infection. Despite this, he continued the trek to Bucknell, serving as the 55th Reunion chair for his class last June, and working closely with BPIP and Kappa Sigma right to the end of his life.
Several Bucknellians eulogized Doc at his memorial service last November, including Grant Parseghian ’10, the first president of the re-colonized Kappa Sigma.
Afterward, Rob Lenker took Parseghian aside, thanked him for speaking and gave him his father’s alumni pin. Rob then asked him to take over his father’s mentorship of Kappa Sigma, to which Parseghian replied, “Doc, I would have liked to have walked with you to the ends of the earth, but I’ll settle for following in your footsteps.”
Mary Ann Sigler Stanton '89 works at Bucknell as the Associate Director of Development for Milestone Reunions.