As Dillard and Jeff Kirby sat in an office within Lafayette College’s Kirby Sports Center late Sunday morning, their seats provided a view that any Leopards fan would love.
“It’s wonderful,” said Jeff Kirby, “to watch the stream of people coming down the steps [through Fisher Stadium] and into the arena to see the [Lafayette vs. Lehigh men’s basketball] game.”
Dillard, Jeff and the F.M. Kirby Foundation, named in honor of their great grandfather, Fred Morgan Kirby, a five-and-dime merchant who became one of the founders of the F.W. Woolworth Company, are a big reason why residents of the community and Lafayette students so often pack the beautiful, recently-renovated Kirby Sports Center arena in Easton.
Dillard and Jeff, who graduated from Lafayette in 1981 and 1984 respectively, were on College Hill Sunday for the re-dedication of Kirby Sports Center, which was during halftime. The F.M. Kirby Foundation, responsible for the building’s original construction in 1972 and for a $35 million transformation 14 years ago, funded the most recent $1.7 million renovation. The extensive upgrades include the addition of new seating under the West basket, a video scoreboard at center court, reserved seats that have been replaced with chairback seats and an LED scorer’s table.
Jeff has seen his share of athletic facilities throughout the country. None has caught his eye more than the one named for his family.
Kirby Redication Ceremony video.
“I see a lot of arenas, and I can’t think of any that I’ve been in that are as impressive as this,” Jeff Kirby said. “Certainly, many are bigger. But in terms of the sports center, which I think carries over to the college and other facilities, I can’t think of any that I’ve been in that are as well done, representative of quality design and workmanship, aesthetically pleasing, highly functional and extremely well maintained. From what I’ve seen, this is unrivaled in that it has whole package.”
The process began about two years ago when the College reached out to the F.M. Kirby Foundation about funding the renovation and Dillard Kirby, who felt so connected to the athletics center since its opening in 1972 when he was just in junior high school, couldn’t help but wonder if the end result would have the same intimate atmosphere he had grown to love.
“We were concerned a little about whether it would separate the students in the bleachers from the reserved seats,” Dillard Kirby said. “And we are downsizing by about 1,200 seats. But I think they’ve done a nice job of actually blending that. There’s still a nice connection that has remained. And I think it’s gotten even cozier.”
Jeff and Dillard agreed that their father, Fred M. Kirby, who passed away in 2011 and is a member of Lafayette’s class of 1942, would be enamored with the beauty and technology offered at the upgraded athletics center.
“I think the college ought to and does, try to be the best it can be in all realms: athletics, academics, other extracurricular activities and this is a small representation of how that’s going on throughout the college,” Jeff Kirby said. “Like our father, our grandfather and our great grandfather before us, we are awfully proud of that.”
Dillard, one of nine Kirby family members to attend Lafayette with a 10th likely on the way as Jeff’s daughter Jane Kirby hopes to enroll in the fall of 2015, feels like the Foundation has kept their father’s hopes and dreams for Lafayette College intact.
“Our dad was a big leader in the charge to make sure we maintained a Division I sports program here and clearly in this program and this building, we made that commitment, and we think he led both with his leadership in terms of the foundation funding, earlier projects and this project, but would be real pleased to see that we’re continuing that.”
And so, too, are Leopard fans everywhere.