North Central College preparing to celebrate sesquicentennial

Published6/1/2009 12:17 AM

In two years North Central College will celebrate its Sesquicentennial.

Planning already is underway for a number of events and special projects - including a new history of the college by C. Frederick Toenniges, history professor Ann Durkin Keating and professor of history emeritus Pierre Lebeau - commissioned to mark this historic milestone. There will even be shared commemorations with Wheaton and Augustana colleges, whose sesquicentennials overlap ours.


It is easy to think of such events and celebrations as "fun and games," and surely there will be many festive moments along the way. But the Sesquicentennial is really about something very serious, and that point has never been more evident than in these challenging economic times.

Rick Spencer, North Central's vice president for institutional advancement, whose family ties to the college span nearly half of our history, put the point simply in a takeoff from the popular "Got Milk" advertisements: "Got History, Got Future."

A magnificent multimillion dollar legacy gift this spring from three remarkable sisters - two of them alumnae of the college from more than three-quarters of a century ago - endowing the Schneller Sisters Professorship in Leadership, Ethics and Values and a student residence hall (which will now be known as Schneller Hall) provides a powerful demonstration of this theme.

Their grandfather was in the first group of students to attend classes in Naperville in 1870 in the brand new Old Main. Their personal connection with North Central College extended over nearly a century and friendships with five presidents and numerous faculty and staff.

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But as important as the monetary legacy they left to support future generations of our students are the reasons for that legacy. Throughout the recession, which has so impacted the resources of students and their families (and the college's endowment), I have taken heart in one simple fact: the bulwark of this school's fiscal health and that of colleges like us - our real endowment - is generations of alumni and our extended family of loyal supporters - and the love they feel for the college.

And that love is not about just a place. It's about the values and the model of one-on-one instruction for which North Central has witnessed since 1861.

Twenty years ago, my predecessor as North Central's president, Gael Swing, sought to capture that special character in a program he called, simply, Leadership, Ethics and Values. In two decades, that program has grown to encompass every facet of campus life, both inside and outside the classroom.

First-year students are engaged in case studies raising significant ethical questions. Graduating seniors confront leadership, ethical and values questions in a capstone seminar in their major field. Student athletes are involved in a variety of mentoring and leadership activities, both within teams and outside them.


Hundreds of students participate in service activities, in this region and around the world, coordinated through the campus Office of Ministry and Service. Throughout the curriculum there are LEV-intensive courses, including a popular sequence in conflict resolution.

It was not a surprise to me that Cecelia Schneller Mueller, Mary Schneller Rosar and Addie Schneller Belfanz chose to establish an endowed professorship in LEV with their magnificent bequest. The North Central College of 2009 is in many ways different from the institution they knew as young people.

But in its fundamental DNA - as exemplified by the Leadership, Ethics and Values Program - it has never changed. Got History, Got Future.

For 148 years, whatever the world has thrown at North Central College - the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, a fiscal crisis in the 1970s, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars - we've survived and thrived! Compared to those events, a dramatic drop in the Dow is just a hiccup.

As I recently wrote to our alumni, "We've got so much to build upon. And with your help, the best is yet to come."

• Harold Wilde is president of North Central College in Naperville.

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