In the nearly 22 years Harold "Hal" Wilde has led North Central College in Naperville, his hallmark always has been balance.
The ninth president of the 150-year-old institution made his mark as a strong fundraiser who led administrators with ease, but who also remained highly accessible to students.
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He also shepherded booming growth at North Central, while still honoring its past.
"He always does things with an eye toward preserving our historic legacy," North Central archivist Kim Butler said.
Wilde came to the college in March 1991 at age 45, and he announced Friday he will step down at the end of the 2012 calendar year.
Wilde called his career "the best job I could have ever asked for," pledging in a written statement to the North Central community that he will remain active at the college until he retires.
"To be a part of this great institution for so long, to live on campus, to become friends with hundreds -- thousands! -- of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and community supporters has been a rare privilege," Wilde said in the statement.
Since his arrival, the college's endowment increased from $10 million to $100 million and the college adopted its first new comprehensive curriculum in 25 years.
The campus also underwent significant physical changes, including the renovation of Old Main, the addition of two residence halls, construction of a sports complex and the opening of the 57,000-square-foot Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center.
In addition, Wilde helped create continuously balanced budgets and a successful $50 million capital campaign.
"He's done a really terrific job with fundraising, and has remained centered on the mission of improving education and opportunities for students," said Ann Durkin Keating.
Durkin Keating is the C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History, an endowed post. Before Wilde's tenure, no endowed positions existed at the college, Butler said.
Durkin Keating also said Wilde took advantage of the economic boom in the late 1990s, which helped the college avoid any financial shortfalls during the recent recession.
"The standouts are the moments of crisis," she said. "Hal and the board of trustees really negotiated the economic downturn in '07 and '08, carefully managed the college's finances and really kept us on a strong footing, not just an even footing."
North Central's student population also experienced sweeping changes under Wilde. Today, the school has about 3,000 students, but only about half that number were enrolled when Wilde arrived.
"When he came in, we were trying to decide where the college was going," said Butler. "About half the students back then were nontraditional adult or night students, as well as graduate students. Now, it's really focused back on traditional undergraduates and he's returned North Central to the liberal arts core we started with."
As the student body shifted, Wilde made it a point to connect with students at sporting activities, campus events, or even to sit next to them in the dining halls.
Senior Emily Rademaker, president of the Student Governing Association, said Wilde would always question students about their futures and help them make decisions that would lead them toward their goals.
"He supports them from the time they walk on campus to the time they graduate and beyond," Rademaker said. "We always say that we are a family and we support each other. I think Hal is the face of that motto and that really inspires a lot of students."
Butler agreed that Wilde's leadership also contributes to the strong morale and camaraderie that makes North Central "a great place to work," she said.
"I don't know what really causes that, but I suspect it comes from the top down," Butler said.
Wilde said he "should not and will not" be a part of the search for his successor. But he announced his retirement 10 months early to help create a smooth transition, he said.
North Central board of trustees Chairman Steve Hoeft is outlining the framework for the coming search process, Wilde said.