Harold R. (Hal) Wilde became the ninth president of North Central in 1991.
Raised in Milwaukee, he attended Amherst College before earning a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University. After serving as executive assistant to Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Lucey, Wilde became insurance commissioner for the State of Wisconsin and then special assistant to the president of the University of Wisconsin system. After his service in state government, Wilde became vice president for external affairs at Beloit College. During his tenure at Beloit, the school quadrupled its endowment and grew substantially.
In his inaugural address at North Central, Wilde harkened back to the College’s first president, A.A. Smith, who described the institution as “a great moral lighthouse.” Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Professor Howard Mueller said, “We celebrate your affirmation of teaching as a high calling and applaud your commitment to exert constant moral force in order to develop responsible human beings and to create a more just society.”
Wilde led the College through the boom times of the 1990s and through the horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001. In December 2001 he noted, “History teaches that the only enduring answers to infamy are to be found in the mission of institutions like North Central College. For 140 years, this school has been a place of reason and faith, tolerance and learning, strength and compassion… where people of all backgrounds come together in common purpose and community.”
During the first decade of the new century, Wilde helped steer a fiscally responsible policy that allowed the College to successfully weather the Great Recession. Under Wilde’s leadership, the College experienced a sevenfold increase in endowment; continuous balanced budgets; the largest individual, corporate and foundation gifts and bequests in the College’s history (making possible 12 endowed faculty chairs and five Ruge fellows, as well as a 400 percent rise in scholarship support); adoption of the College’s first comprehensive new curriculum in 25 years; and a broadened commitment to international programming, service-learning and interdisciplinary studies. In addition, the College successfully completed a $50 million capital campaign in 2003.
Significant changes in North Central’s physical campus under Wilde included total renovation of Old Main; two new residence halls; a “green” residence complex that surrounds a recreation center and indoor track; two state-of-the-art stadiums for football, track and field and baseball; a new cyber café for students and the community; two renovated and expanded academic buildings housing the College chapel, English and foreign language departments (Kiekhofer Hall), and the art department and a thrust-stage theatre (Meiley-Swallow Hall); the upgrade of the campus computer system to include wireless connectivity and “smart” classrooms; and the 57,000- square-foot Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center.
As part of its Sesquicentennial celebration in 2011, the College conducted a major campaign to construct new science facilities, beautify campus and build the endowment.
Wilde is married to Benna Brecher Wilde. When the Wildes and their children (Anna, Henry, and Elizabeth Ty) moved to Naperville, their youngest (Ty) was in sixth grade. Benna spent her first few years as a stay-at-home mom, but her expertise in arts management soon connected her with the arts philanthropic community. She became the managing director of Prince Charitable Trusts, cementing the College’s connection with the Chicago arts network.
Wilde described his position as “the best job in the world… to be the number one fan of an extraordinary community of students, faculty, and staff… and live on a historic campus in the heart of one of America’s finest cities.”