Tom Sykes: what a guy

Bonnie Alger

The offices of faculty and staff are spread out all over campus, and several are where you’d least expect them to be. Some are mixed in with the classrooms in Main Hall, some in posh suites in New Science, a handful are in the dark basement of the Chapel, while others are hidden in ConWest. Most people tend to forget about those who work in the library. However, tucked away behind the media desk in the Mudd is the office of Tom Sykes, media services director.Born and raised in Appleton, Sykes has been employed by Lawrence since 1985. He is essentially responsible for the Media Center as we know it. When he first arrived he installed new stereos and equipment, to replace the two outdated turntables that had been in use. Students used to have to signal to the “turntable player” when they wanted to hear a recording played, and Sykes thought that this was ridiculous. By the time people are of college age, they should be mature and responsible enough to handle equipment like that themselves, and as Sykes good-naturedly jokes, “Of course there’s the Honor Code, the Lawrence Difference.”

He split his years as an undergraduate between UW-Fox Valley and UW-Madison and originally wanted to become a veterinarian. However, he decided to volunteer for the army, and was sent to Vietnam in the late 1960s, where he remained until the end of the decade. He is very comfortable with discussing his experiences in “‘Nam,” and gives presentations on them around campus and in the community. “It was a defining moment in my life… I have a deeper appreciation for life. I’m calmer… and more cynical.” Sykes was only 20 at the time, a relatively young age for a soldier, and says he “came back 21 going on 60,” adding, “You grew up really fast!”

A jack of many trades, Sykes has switched careers a few times throughout his life. While he was in the army, he worked as a dog handler in Fort Bennington, Ga., before going to Vietnam for a year. This position complimented his great love of animals extremely well. Once he got out of school, he sold imported cars, and raced them as a hobby. “I went from there to the next logical step, owning a greenhouse,” jokes Sykes.

After that, he “talked his way into working for the AV department” at ThedaClark Medical Center, where he worked for seven years in surgical photography. When the position at Lawrence was advertised, he met the then-director of the Mudd Library, and the two of them quickly discovered that they were both huge fans of Aldo Leopold. Sykes was hired within days.

“There’s always something new and challenging to do,” says Sykes of his job. He feels that advances in library technology have brought the campus together. The piano lab in the conservatory used to be a listening station, but ever since the materials were moved out of there and into the library, there has been far more interaction between the Con and the rest of the college. He loves dealing with students, as he enjoys their enthusiasm and energy.

He told his children when they were young, “There are three things you need to learn how to do… learn how to use a camera… learn how to drive stick-shift… and learn a foreign language.” Sound advice for all of us! Oh, and if you get the chance, stop by Mr. Sykes’ office and congratulate him: he’s due to become a grandfather this month!