Anderson, ‘vital link’ to community,
During his 31-year career at Temple, Thomas Anderson Jr. has come to embody the valuable relationship between the University and its neighboring North Philadelphia community.
“Thomas is like family,” said Diane Gass, president of the nearby Norris Homes PHA Tenant Council. “He’s made a big difference and made a whole lot happen within Norris Homes. He’s going to be missed.”
Gass, like so many others whose lives have been affected by Anderson, is planning to say goodbye as he prepares to retire as the University’s associate vice president for community relations at the end of the year.
The job has evolved over the years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Anderson’s commitment. Creating a climate of trust and understanding between Temple and the surrounding communities has never been a 9-to-5 job, Anderson said recently in an interview in his office.
“It can be a 14-hour day, plus working evenings, Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. “I’ve had a commitment to do things for the University and for the community, and I just do it and make it happen.”
The “it” could be anything from taking two busloads of North Philadelphia residents to Harrisburg to press state officials on the need for a Temple-Shriners Children’s Hospital to launching the George Washington Carver Science Fair for public school students 25 years ago that is now held each spring at the Main Campus.
“It” is often achieving the delicate balance between University and community interests.
In 1973, when Anderson came to Temple in the newly created position of director of community relations, local demonstrations by the Black Panthers and the MOVE organization reflected the broader protest movement that had spread across the country.
“There was a lot of ferment in the community,” said Anderson, who was charged with easing those tensions. “It’s all about getting to know people and their having some trust in you. That becomes the means to communication.”
Fast-forward 31 years, and it’s clear that Temple’s ambassador of goodwill to the community has had a profound impact.
“Tom Anderson has been a real community relations person, keeping in contact with neighborhood folks,” state Rep. Jewell Williams said. “Block captains, committee people, the kids he gave tickets to for Temple sporting events, even the neighborhood newsstand person — he’s had a connection to every part of the neighborhood.”
Photo by Robert Dias
In late 1991, the Office of Community Relations helped forge a Community Development Plan between Temple and its neighbors, making construction of James S. White Residence Hall possible and benefiting residents and business owners. On Nov. 25, 1991, former executive vice president at Temple Jack E. Freeman; Evelyn Boyer, block captain for the 2000 block of Carlisle Street; former Temple President Peter J. Liacouras; men’s basketball coach John Chaney; Jewell Williams, then president of the Susquehanna Advisory Council (and now state representative); and Associate Vice President for Community Relations Thomas Anderson Jr. took part in a ceremony for the partnership in Mitten Hall.
The partnership Anderson forged between Temple and Norris Homes includes facilitating an “adoption” agreement signed in 1995; establishing the Temple Health Connection, an on-site health center managed by Temple nurses and providing education, counseling and health screening exams; and enhancing their community center facilities with a computer room and tutoring services.
It’s one of scores of University-community partnerships that he has worked tirelessly to achieve. Among them: Temple’s Adopt-A-Block and Welcome Wagon programs, in conjunction with the office of Student Affairs, through which Temple students and neighboring residents affirm their shared responsibilities for the community; the letter of understanding signed by Temple University Greek Association members and their neighbors, outlining voluntary regulation of TUGA-sponsored social events and underscoring a commitment to strengthening community relations; the Temple Mile program, which sent students out to work in the community within a one-mile radius of the campus; construction training programs; and jobs on all of the University’s projects.
“At one time, people feared that Temple was trying to buy up the neighborhood and displace residents,” Anderson said, pointing to the early 1980s, when the James S. White Residence Hall was constructed, and the 1990s, when Temple built the Liacouras Center complex.
In both instances, the successful outcomes quickly dispelled any lingering concerns. “People saw the University’s growth as an economic growth opportunity for the community, and the Liacouras Center has been an anchor for North Philadelphia that has also spurred development.”
As part of the community partnership agreements forged from those projects, 30 students from the neighborhood have attended Temple as Community Scholars; 15 of the 30 have graduated and two are still enrolled.
“Tom Anderson has provided an incalculable service to the University and surrounding community,” said Clarence Armbrister, Temple’s senior vice president. “His dedication and resourcefulness in acting on behalf of the University will be truly missed. Those of us who now enjoy what Temple University has become owe a debt of gratitude to individuals such as Tom Anderson, who made what was only a vision — years ago — into a reality.”
Although Anderson officially retires Dec. 31, he will continue in a consulting role for the next six months. He will also continue to run the Carver Science Fair, which he sees as a gateway to the University for Philadelphia public school students.
“During his exemplary 31-year career at Temple, Tom has served as the face of Temple in the community,” Temple President David Adamany said. “He leaves behind many friendships and relationships that have served Temple well for more than three decades. We are delighted that, even in retirement, Tom will continue his important work with the community through the Carver Science Fair.”
Looking back on his career, Anderson recalled visiting innumerable homes and sitting down at countless dinner tables in the community, forming the relationships and building the trust that would strengthen the bonds between the University and its neighbors.
“That’s what makes this job worthwhile, what I’ve been doing all these years,” he said.
- By Harriet Goodheart