Wilde era draws to a close at North Central College
By Ted Slowik North Central College December 17, 2012 2:22PM
Retiring North Central College President Harold Wilde and his wife Benna receive a key to the city of Naperville from City Manager Doug Krieger Dec. 4 at the College's Wentz Concert Hall. Courtesy/submitted by North Central College
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:12AM
The Harold R. Wilde presidency draws to a close this month at North Central College after almost 22 years and many significant accomplishments.
In videos and books honoring the college’s sesquicentennial in 2011, North Central told the story of its 150-year history through the tenures of the nine people who have been president since 1861. That says something about the stability of the college’s leadership and the significance of a change in presidents.
Before Troy D. Hammond assumes North Central College’s presidency on Jan. 1, this month many at the college are reflecting on the impact that Wilde and his wife, Benna, had on their lives. First, a few statistics set the stage to help one appreciate the changes that have occurred during the Wilde presidency.
On Wilde’s first day as president on March 25, 1991, North Central’s full-time undergraduate enrollment was 1,287. The campus consisted of 27 buildings, and 804 students lived on campus. The school’s endowment was $10 million; there were no endowed faculty chairs; and the school had at that point in its history claimed 14 national athletic championships.
Today North Central has 2,516 full-time undergraduates and 1,489 live on campus. There are 13 endowed faculty chairs, 43 buildings and 30 national championships. The school’s endowment has grown to almost $100 million. Between 1991 and 2012, 13,069 people graduated from the college, many of whom live and work in the Naperville area.
Under Wilde’s leadership — and in large part as a result of his emphasis on academic rigor and scholarly achievement — North Central saw its first Fulbright Scholar named in 1994. Since then, national scholar honors include seven Fulbright honorees, six Goldwater Scholar honorees and a National Science Foundation fellow.
In terms of capital improvements, Wilde’s impact began with the Old Main renovation and expansion that was completed in 1998 and restored the 1870 building as the centerpiece of campus. Major improvements that followed included constructing several new residence halls; completing a new football stadium and baseball field; renovating such historic structures as Koten Chapel/Kiekhofer Hall and the Boilerhouse; dedicating new theater and arts spaces such as Meiley-Swallow Hall and the magnificent Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center; and constructing such new athletic facilities as Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium and the environmentally innovative Residence Hall/Recreation Center.
The college paid tribute to Wilde and his wife, Benna, on Dec. 4 during the college’s annual holiday open house. Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger, on behalf of Mayor A. George Pradel, presented Wilde with a ceremonial key to the city.
“When Hal arrived here 22 years ago, it could be said that we were like a lot of places where cities and colleges don’t always work that well together,” Krieger said.
Wilde helped transform the college’s relationship with its neighbors and with business, civic and educational partners in the community.
“The key to a successful partnership is communication,” Krieger said.
Under Wilde’s leadership, the college has attracted more and better-qualified traditional-age students; committed itself to a rigorous leadership, ethics and values program; and earned a reputation as being among the finest comprehensive liberal arts institutions in the country. Wilde leaves a legacy of building a healthy endowment, nurturing great teaching and student learning, and transforming the campus with magnificent facilities.
All that while making an indelible impression on everyone who met him with a graciousness, good humor and humbleness that comes from his Wisconsin upbringing.
Ted Slowik is director of PR and media relations at North Central College, 30 N. Brainard St., Naperville. Visit northcentralcollege.edu