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updated: 2/17/2012 7:30 PM

NCC's retiring president: 'I will be a Cardinal for life'

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  • North Central College President Harold "Hal" Wilde pauses in front of a painting of the school's Old Main building.

    North Central College President Harold "Hal" Wilde pauses in front of a painting of the school's Old Main building.
    Daily Herald file photo


When Harold "Hal" Wilde announced Friday he will step down as president of Naperville's North Central College at the end of this calendar year, he didn't exactly surprise the school's board of trustees.

Wilde says he shared his retirement plans with the board two years ago and never wavered.

"I'm quickly approaching my 67th birthday and I told the board two years ago that I would like to retire at the conclusion of the sesquicentennial celebration," Wilde said. "That's been the plan. I have not deviated from that. As I look at it, I have 10 months to look forward to complete fundraising and enjoying my time on campus."

Wilde has spent nearly 22 years as the ninth president in the 150-year history of the 3,000-student college.

"I tell people every day that I will be a Cardinal for life. This will always be the school I love," he said. "I've been married 42 years and half of that time I've lived in the middle of North Central College."

During that time the school's enrollment and endowment have increased dramatically and the physical campus has taken on a whole new look.

"By any standard, Hal Wilde has had a remarkable tenure as North Central's president," board Chairman Steve Hoeft, an alumnus, said in a written statement. "His legacy will be felt on this campus -- and throughout the community of Naperville -- for generations to come."

Wilde said he chose to retire at the end of the calendar year because he believes it is the best time for the college to get the widest possible pool of candidates. He won't be involved in the search, but he hopes the rest of the campus will be.

"I expect the search committee will move forward over the course of the summer and, ideally, the college would be able to select the new president by its October meeting," he said. "If the next president can start Jan. 1, fabulous. If not, that's not a problem either because we've got enough outstanding people here to keep this thing going in the right direction in the interim."

Once he steps away, Wilde said he certainly expects to see more of his four grandchildren and also be able to be a more supportive husband to his wife, Benna, who is "committed professionally for years to come."

He also intends to volunteer his new free time continuing to mentor both college-bound students on their college choices and young college presidents on the challenges of the job.

"I've counseled families and students about college choices for many years and for those people I've provided a service that people spend thousands of dollars for. I'd like to continue doing that for students in the inner city and charter schools," he said.

"And for years, other presidents have called on me and asked advice. I intend to continue providing that service to 10 to 15 young college presidents. I won't bill them, but I'll have them donate to charities of my choice."

That choice, of course, is for the donations to go to North Central College.

"That's my way of keeping my pledges to the college and doing something helpful," he said.

When asked to pick a favorite memory or accomplishment over the past 21 years, Wilde said it's like asking him to say he loves one child more than 1,000 others.

"I've assembled a Hal's all-time highlight reel and I often put myself to sleep to it because I could go on for hours. I can tell you about a track meet 15 years ago where our runner lapped the defending national champion. I can tell you of a specific performance of 'Pirates of Penzance,' where our magnificent singer swung around on a rope and I still hear my wife swooning about what a hunk he was," Wilde said. "But I also would tell you about YoYo Ma enthralling an audience and I could go on.

"That's why I have said many times in the last 21 years that there were days when I would have paid to be president of this college."

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