Oldrich “Ollie” Foucek ’72 is adept at crossing disciplinary boundaries. By day, Foucek practices law as an attorney with Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. in Allentown, PA. In his free time, he supports the arts at Lehigh, serving as chair of the fundraising committee for the University’s Zoellner Arts Center.
The Center opened in 1997 as the home to Lehigh’s music department, the department of theatre, the art galleries and the guest artist series, all of which share the same technical, marketing and administrative staff, venues and equipment. The building houses three theatres: the 1,000-seat proscenium Baker Hall, the 300-seat Diamond Theater, a 125-seat black box theatre, as well as a two-story art gallery, state-of-the-art recording studio, and several large classrooms.
“This year, the Arts Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary, which coincides with the University sesquicentennial,” says Foucek. “So, intending to capitalize on all that positive energy, we’ve booked multiple Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award nominee, Vanessa Williams, to give us a performance to remember. We have every expectation that she'll light up the stage and wow the audience on October 8th.”
Foucek explains that Zoellner Arts Center has an advantage in that it’s connected with Lehigh University; but the budgetary pressures on the Arts Center are similar to a free-standing performing arts space. Nonetheless, Foucek believes “the future of Zoellner is bright, and personally, I am as excited about the promise of Zoellner and what it means both to Lehigh University and the Lehigh Valley as I was 20 years ago.”
Although Foucek admits to having no musical talent, he has always been impressed by those who can emotionally move an audience. His involvement with the arts beyond simply being an audience member started shortly after he returned to the Lehigh Valley. In the early ’80s he helped organize and served on the board of Touchstone Theater. Touchstone’s artistic leader was, and still is, Bill George, a fellow Lehigh classmate and fraternity brother.
“My experiences on Touchstone's board exposed me to others in the local arts community and gave me an understanding of the organizational and operational challenges facing non-profit arts organizations.
Shortly after getting involved with Touchstone, I had the opportunity to join the board of Pennsylvania Stage Company, a professional, regional theater with a performance space in Allentown. I became president of its board and ultimately learned the hard lesson that, regardless of the quality of its performances (and the quality was fantastic), running a non-profit arts organization is not at all different from running any other business enterprise. It requires a lot of revenue and community support.”
Foucek did not grow up in an artistic family. Having grandparents who were Czech immigrants, being able to design and build something concrete was perceived as valuable to self and society. His father studied engineering before enlisting in the Army Air Corps during WWII and his mother was a draftsman for many years before completing her studies and becoming a civil engineer.
“I was encouraged to become an engineer. I grew up on Long Island and my family also had a summer home in the foothills of the Poconos. So, when it came time to look at colleges with strong engineering programs not far from home, Lehigh was first on the list. I applied early decision and was accepted early in the fall.”
Foucek found that the ease with which an undergraduate can switch majors, and even colleges, is one of Lehigh’s enduring qualities. Another peculiar strength, he found, is the requirement that freshmen engineers take courses in the humanities. So, for Foucek, that meant that once he realized he was performing appreciably better in freshman English and American history than in calculus, chemistry and physics, he transferred to the College of Arts & Sciences at the end of freshman year.
“The decision to major in American Studies was driven largely by my experiences with the faculty teaching American literature and American history. I was particularly influenced by David Amidon, Roger Simon and Joe Dowling in history and Jim Frakes, Bob Harson and Jack DeBellis in English. The small class size and ready access to the faculty were particular attractive to me.”
Foucek’s decision to apply to law school happened after his junior year. Until then, he had thought of pursuing graduate studies in history and teaching at the college level. However, he says that Dr. Dowling cautioned that getting a teaching position, even with a degree from a top-rate graduate program, was going to very hard,” because it was the height of the Vietnam War and many young men enrolled in doctoral programs sought to extend their student deferments by getting teaching jobs. “So, after considering my options, Case Western Reserve University Law School in Cleveland, Ohio, was where I was headed.”
Lehigh not only provided Foucek with a wonderful academic experience, allowing him to acquire a depth of knowledge in a core humanities curriculum that has proved very valuable, but it also challenged him to interact with a wide variety of people, consider diverse opinions and seize leadership opportunities.
“Each relationship formed at Lehigh, including those with faculty and administrators, impacted me positively and allowed me to grow as a person.”
Once out of law school, Foucek chose to work for a law firm in Allentown: Tallman, Hudders & Sorrentino. That was over 40 years ago and, while that firm has gone through some transitions since then (the most significant, a merger with New York and New Jersey-based Norris McLaughlin & Marcus), he continues to work with some of the same people he began his career with and, amazingly, some of the same clients.
“The Lehigh Valley has grown in population and influence over the past four decades; but, with respect to the practice of law, it has remained compact and intimate,” says Foucek, who practices business law. Over the years, many of my clients have become friends. Likewise, I consider the other lawyers in my firm to be part of a professional family, where we help one another out inside and outside the office. I've had the good fortune to work on matters involving many different legal issues. That has allowed me to keep learning and to stay motivated.”
Foucek lives in Allentown with his wife, Andrea, a retired school psychologist. They have two daughters, both Lehigh alums, Alexis, ’05 and Arielle, ’09. Along with his Lehigh volunteer responsibilities (which have included 10 years on the Board of Trustees and a term as President of the Alumni Association), Foucek chairs the Allentown City Planning Commission, is on the Executive Committee of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Board of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA) and is secretary of his golf club.
Like he told his daughters when entering Lehigh, “students should take some time to appreciate fully all that Lehigh has to offer before making some conscious decisions about how best to spend their precious time.” He says that includes deciding on a major (and perhaps minors) and what extracurricular activities they’ll participate in. “Also, Lehigh, by virtue of its size and culture, offers the opportunity for a student to develop mentoring relationships that are invaluable not only during the student’s time on campus, but long afterward; and, those relationships should be sought out and cultivated.”
For more information about how you can give to Zoellner or the arts at Lehigh, please contact Kelly Stazi, director of development, at email@example.com or 610-758-2824