On the wall in the basement of the North Central College President’s House is a picture of our 1993 NCAA Division III National Championship men’s cross country team. (That was the year North Central men set the NCAA record for lowest score!) The photograph hangs directly opposite the beat-up leather chair where I sit to work without any distractions. On this July day, there is a major one — the staccato rat-a-tat-tat of a visiting drum and bugle corps practicing morning, noon and night outside the Fort Hill residence complex, a sound that can be heard everywhere in the house except the basement.
At North Central, with an academic year that stretches into mid-June, summer is short, and we like to think of it as a quiet time, an opportunity to charge our batteries for the fall. But as the drums of July remind me, every year brings more and more activity to these months, from the 240 students from Chicago’s west side and Aurora’s east side participating in our Junior/Senior Scholars Program, to the more than 10,000 involved in athletic and academic camps, summer school courses, classes for the gifted, and summer theatre productions. This is a great thing, making year-round use of our facilities, and exposing hundreds of potential students to the College … but not very conducive to writing a column for North Central Now.
In exile in my basement, I stare a little longer at the 42 young men in that picture, now in their 30s, and think about the impact they are having as teachers, businessmen, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, parents and socially committed community members … to cite just a few of their roles and achievements. In cross country, only the scores of the top five finishers count in the team total. In 1993, in the team numbers, North Central came in 1, 2, 5, 6 and 18 — producing the record low score of 32 — but there were 42 champions on that team, as the picture reminds me, and as their lives are demonstrating.
Summer is a time for day-dreaming about triumphs to come … another great cross country season, maybe the best North Central football team in 50 years … but also, for reflecting upon where we have been, and where we hope to go — and putting the campus in shape to get there. We are preparing for the largest class of new students, freshmen and transfers, in the College’s history. We’ve made three wonderful new appointments in key campus positions, Jim Miller ’86 as athletic director; Martin Sauer as dean of admission and financial aid; and Adrian Aldrich ’02 as director of alumni relations. The campus is abuzz with projects to improve the physical plant, from the renovation of the west wing of Oesterle Library’s basement) to the soon-to-be-started restoration and transformation of the ETS Administration (Koten Chapel) building, which will be renamed Kiekhofer Hall, thanks to a lead gift from H. Robert Holmes ’66. And steady progress is being made in moving our fine arts facility dreams closer to fulfillment.
With all that is going on, the most important thing to do in this “quiet time” is reflect upon the message of those young men in that picture — excellence, what it takes to be the best, to raise the bar, while remaining true to the values that define the special character of this college.
No alumnus in my 15 years at North Central has symbolized that quest — and those values — better than Life Trustee and Board Chair Emeritus Clare Oesterle ’39, who died on July 8. A modest and kind man, with a twinkle in his eye and a generosity of spirit that lifted everyone with whom he came into contact, Clare was also a competitor and a practical visionary, who understood the lesson of Coach Al Carius’ cross country championships better than anyone else — it takes a team. He led by example, and no one who came into contact with his dreams for this college could ever doubt the heights we can climb as Team NCC. He wanted nothing less than to crowd 15,000 alumni into that picture on my basement wall — champions all. In a busy summer, that is a vision worthy of the sound of the drum and bugle corps outside my window … and the legacy of this very special man.
Harold R. Wilde
North Central Now, September 2005