When Dr. Thomas McLoughlin thinks about the late Superintendent Joseph P. Liberati, it's not the official who presided over Southern Lehigh School Board meetings that he remembers.
It's the big bear of a man who would fold his body up to sit at the child-size lunch tables at the Hopewell Elementary School to eat ice cream with the littlest pupils. Or the guy who would dress up and lead the elementary school Halloween parade or wear his pajamas for "Pajama Stuffy Day."
The Southern Lehigh Intermediate School officially became the Joseph P. Liberati Intermediate School at a dedication ceremony this morning attended by Liberati's family, friends and members of the community.
"This is a fitting and proper and very warmly felt tribute to Joe given his many years of service to the district," said McLoughlin, president of the Southern Lehigh School Board.
The school, which was completed in 2009 for grades 4, 5 and 6, was one of the big projects Liberati was able to see through to fruition before his death in November 2011 at age 57. Earlier that month, he had announced his plans to retire effective March 2012.
The current superintendent, Leah Christman, said Liberati would be pleased that the building was named for him. "He put a lot into this building. This was his baby," she said before the dedication ceremony.
Such major projects were important, but to Liberati his job was all about the children, his widow Mariann said. The days he spent in meetings he would often come home worn out. "A good day was being able to see kids and talk to kids."
"He loved Southern Lehigh like it was his third child," she said.
During his 22 years with the district, Liberati was principal at the Hopewell and Lower Milford elementary schools and held other administrative positions before becoming superintendent in 2003.
A scholarship fund was set up in Liberati's name and it awarded its first scholarship to a graduating senior this past spring.
His daughter, Liz Liberati, works not far away at Olympus and said it will be gratifying to be able to drive by and see her father's name on the school.
"I know a lot of Southern Lehigh families with kids who are really benefiting from my dad's work," Liz said.
"It's like a landmark for our family for the rest of our lives," said Liberati's son, Joe. He said the family is very grateful that the school board chose to name the building for his dad.
McLoughlin said school board members have frequent disagreements but "this was something we came together on."
Former School Board member Bill Miracle, who served with Liberati for many years, was given the job of ribbon-cutting at the ceremony. "He'd be so proud...so proud to be with us today," Miracle said. "Somehow I think he is."