North Central College - Naperville, IL

Harold R. Wilde

1991-2012, Ninth President

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.”


Gael D. Swing

1975-1990, Eighth President

Gael D. Swing, the eighth president of North Central College, was born on March 13, 1932, in LaPorte County, Indiana.

He graduated from Franklin College (Indiana) in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business and received a master’s degree from Indiana University in 1963.

After a short period as a sales representative with the Burroughs Corporation, he accepted a position as an admission counselor at his alma mater and climbed the ladder as director of placement, director of admissions, business manager and vice president for development. After 15 years at Franklin College, he joined Washington University (St. Louis) as director of special program services in the development office. He was named executive vice president of North Central in 1973 and became president of the College two years later.

In his inaugural address in May 1976, Swing spoke directly to students: “There is just no telling what surprising doors or unexpected horizons a liberal arts education may open to you, as it did for me!… I told many of you about how my own life had been transformed by a church-related liberal arts college, and that I could conceive of no mission in which men and women of good will could join more wholeheartedly than that of building an institution like North Central College as a place where faith, life values, and intellectual development march together.”

Swing saw the integration of the seminary buildings into the College during his first years in office. He also oversaw the renovation and renaming of the Kroehler Science Center, the Larrance Academic Center, the Harold and Eva White Activities Center and the Clare and Lucy Oesterle Library. He founded the Center for Continuing Education and the adult education program known as Weekend College.

Clare Oesterle, class of 1939, who served as chair of the board of trustees during Swing’s presidency, described the president as a “fiercely committed man with rock-solid integrity. I learned that no matter how intensely he might engage in debate, he was still listening and searching for a best solution. Gael was a tough opponent and a powerful partisan, but he was deeply committed to quality in any assignment and any forum.”

During his tenure at North Central, Swing served as president of The National Association of Schools and Colleges of The United Methodist Church and as a senator to The University Senate of the United Methodist Church. A firm supporter of private education, he was a member of the board of directors of the Council of Independent Colleges, the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, and the Associated Colleges of Illinois.

President Swing died of cancer on May 31, 1990. In his last message to the College community, he said: “What first attracted me to North Central was this College’s potential, and we’ve begun to realize that potential. By almost any measure the quality of this institution is better today, and that is directly attributable to the cooperation and the effort of hundreds—maybe thousands—of individuals who have been involved in the process… There are significant milestones in life for each of us, and I simply want to take this opportunity to thank all alumni and friends of the College for their part in what we have been able to accomplish.”


Arlo L. Schilling

1960-1975, Seventh President

Arlo L. Schilling was the youngest president in the history of the College. He was 35 when he was inaugurated in November 1960.

Schilling was born and raised in an Evangelical United Brethren family in Indiana. He served in World War II and received a Purple Heart, an Oak Leaf cluster and three battle citations. After the war, he attended Huntington College and received a master’s degree from Indiana University in education. Schilling then moved to Purdue University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1958.

Immediately before becoming president of North Central, Schilling served as the assistant superintendent of schools in Elkhart, Indiana. His wife Gloria and three young daughters (Emily, Janey and Nancy) accompanied Schilling to Naperville.

Early in his 15-year tenure as president, Schilling laid out his plans for North Central: “The character of the future will be determined by the quality of what men do today. No element in American life will have a greater effect on that future than education. Here at NCC we have been doing our planning—trustees, administration and faculty alike—determining what we are and where we are going. We believe that some of the answers we have come up with have real meaning in terms of what America is and must become.”

Schilling found the North Central student “normally rebellious. Above average in intelligence, often brilliant, he has assessed his family, church, school, and state to the degree that he knows their answers are not always right. Yet arbitrary to his loyalties, he is looking for his own footing in morals, religion, social relations, and some extent in politics.” The president looked to his faculty to help students find that footing: “The college teacher is the custodian of the heritage of the past, the inspiration for his students in the present, and the ‘idea’ man of the future.”

As the students at North Central looked to faculty, so Schilling could rely on a group of prominent local alumni for guidance and support. Milton Stauffer, class of 1919, was the vice president at Kroehler Manufacturing Company, the largest employer in Naperville during Schilling’s tenure. Stauffer served as chairman of the board of trustees during Schilling’s presidency, as well as mayor of Naperville. Harold Moser, class of 1938, developed numerous subdivisions in Naperville during these years. Harris Fawell, class of 1951, represented the Naperville area in the Illinois State Senate (and later as a U.S. Congressman) beginning in 1962, and offered Schilling advice on governmental affairs.

Schilling’s accomplishments as president included the institution of academic tenure and professional terms for faculty; the construction of Rall Hall, the Student Village and the Science Center; the renovations of Merner, Pfeiffer and Kaufman halls; and the survival of the College’s financial and enrollment crises of the early 1970s.

Schilling also steered the College through the turbulent years of the late 1960s, when civil rights, the Vietnam War and broad societal unrest shook colleges and universities across the United States. Schilling oversaw major revisions to the curriculum, administration and calendar. In all, he understood that change was necessary, but he insisted that it be orderly. In 1969, he noted, “Some students today demand that an institution immediately change its direction in order to comply with their own particular perception of what the college’s mission ought to be. We recognize clearly that our educational process must relate far more realistically to the fast changing demands of this world. These changes, many of which are already occurring at North Central, must take place in a planned and deliberate way with some deep concern for the long-run integrity of the College itself. Change comes from the strength of ideas, respect for orderly process and reasonable consensus with regard to the goals of the College.”

In 1975, after 15 years as president, Schilling retired. He then began a career as a consultant in educational and financial planning and served on boards of financial and civic groups. He died in 1999. Two years later his wife Gloria died.

On Schilling’s death, President Wilde opined that Schilling “invented the modern North Central College.”


C. Harve Geiger

1946-1960, Sixth President

C. Harve Geiger was born on a farm near Milford, Indiana, on June 22, 1893. He attended Manchester College in Indiana and the University of Chicago, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1922.

He married Velma Beatrice in 1915. After a stint teaching high school, Geiger received an M.A. in education from Harvard and moved into higher education. He was part of the faculty at Coe College in Iowa from 1928 to 1946. During that time, his wife completed her B.A. at Coe and he earned a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University.

President Geiger was inaugurated in April 1947 in Pfeiffer Hall. At the ceremony, Geiger professed his “sincere devotion to North Central to the end that her future may be as useful and rich as her past has been honorable.” Geiger emphasized the religious nature of the institution, noting, “The church college is an American college. It is indigenous to our soil and is the characteristic feature of our educational system. And it is appropriate, I believe, that we should renew our sense of obligation for the debt of education to religion.”

During his tenure as president, Geiger would act on this principle, appointing the first College chaplain and supporting a rich College Chapel series. During his tenure, Geiger oversaw the construction of a new library shared by the College and the seminary; the renovation of the old Carnegie Library into the Alumni Hall of Science; the building of the first men’s dormitories, Seager Hall in 1954 and Geiger Hall in 1957; and the construction of women’s dormitories Kroehler Hall North and South. Geiger also appointed the College’s first vice president, Harvey F. Siemsen, class of 1920, to assist him with church relations and increasing College endowment. Geiger established a separate admissions department in 1950, noting that “the motivations compelling college attendance were becoming stronger and more varied.”

Clarence Roberts, hired into the history department by Geiger in 1950, described the president as a “public speaker, a civic promoter and a church leader.” Richard Eastman, whom Geiger hired into the English department in 1946, found him to be a “man of fine character, conservative, housekeeper, slow to move in new directions.”

Geiger served as president until 1960 and retired in Naperville. Geiger attended the inauguration of Swing in 1975, but died later that year. His widow, Velma, died in 1992.


Edward Everett Rall

1916-1946, Fifth President

Edward Everett Rall grew up in the Iowa conference of the Evangelical Church, where his father was a minister. However, Rall did not attend an Evangelical college.

Instead, he went first to Iowa State Teachers’ College, then to graduate school at Yale University. After receiving his Ph.D. in education, Rall taught at the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee, where he was chair of the education department.

Rall was part of a new higher education profession, but had grown up in, and maintained strong ties to, the Evangelical Association. He knew “many of the older preachers” when he came to North‑Western College in 1916.

Rall was a bachelor with a well-established career as an education professor when he arrived in Naperville. Within a year he returned to Knoxville to marry Nell Platt. In the meantime he wrote reassuringly to her, saying that she would “like Naperville and all the good people here… And I know you’ll like the students and could be a very great help to me in my work.”

In 1930 the Ralls moved into the president’s house, purchased by Charles Rall, brother of the president.

Rall saw the College through the difficult years of the world wars and Great Depression. He directed the construction of several new buildings on campus, including Merner Field House and Pfeiffer Hall, as well as the acquisition of other properties that became the first women’s dormitories (Bolton Hall and Johnson Hall).

Many of Rall’s relatives attended North Central during his tenure, including his sons. The Ralls participated in a family round robin throughout all 30 years of his presidency. Every five to six weeks, they received and read a stack of letters from family members, then added a new letter of their own to the packet (while taking out their previous missive) and mailed the whole to the next recipient.

In these letters, Rall shared some of the things that he liked to do beyond being president. He very much liked to swim. When he first came to Naperville, Rall lived at the YMCA and was quick to mention its indoor pool. Fifteen years later, he noted the swims he and his family had taken in Aurora as well as a “fine swim in the lake at Evanston.” He was most proud of the beautiful new pool that was part of the Merner Field House, completed in 1931.

Rall was also fascinated with automobiles and many other consumer items coming on the market in the 1920s. On arriving in Naperville, one of the faculty members took him out for an automobile ride, something he very much enjoyed. By 1923, the Ralls were thinking about buying their own Ford “4-door.” They bought the car in Knoxville from Nell’s brother and drove back to Naperville instead of taking the train. The next year, the Ralls bought a radio and like many other Chicagoans enjoyed a variety of programs, including the “Sunday Evening Club.”

When Rall retired in 1946, he and his wife moved back to Knoxville. However, Rall remained connected to North Central. He attended Arlo Schilling’s inauguration in 1961 and returned to campus in 1965 for the dedication of Rall Hall, named in his honor. He died in 1975 at age 99 and his wife Nell died four years later at the home of their older son in Maryland.

The couple raised two sons, Joseph Edward “Ed,” class of 1940, and David Platt, class of 1946. Ed earned his M.D. from Northwestern and his Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Minnesota. He married Caroline Domm, class of 1942. He was the deputy director for intramural research at the National Institutes of Health and was an internationally renowned research scientist before his death in 2008. He inspired the College’s annual Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research, named in his honor.

President Rall’s younger son, David, earned an M.D. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He had a distinguished career as a cancer researcher who simultaneously headed both the federal National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. At his death in 1999, Rall held the rank of assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service. Both sons received Outstanding Alumnus Awards from North Central College.


Lawrence Hoover Seager

1911-1916, Fourth President

Lawrence Hoover Seager was born in Fremont, Ohio, in 1860. He graduated from Ohio Northern University in 1886.

He then enrolled at North-Western College, where he received a bachelor of science degree in 1887 before entering the Union Biblical Institute and graduating the following year.

Seager served as a minister in various Ohio congregations, then in 1901 was elected editor of the Evangelical Herald, a position he was still holding when he was asked to serve as president of North-Western College in 1911.

During his tenure, the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges accredited the College, a separate building was constructed for the seminary, and the College acquired six acres of land north of the railroad and west of Washington Street for an athletic field with the help of Judge John S. Goodwin.

Seager’s tenure at the College lasted but five years; he resigned the position in 1916 following his election as bishop of the church. On leaving North-Western, Seager noted: “Our reception was most cordial and our relations with townsmen, faculty and students such as to make it a blessed memory. We had the pleasure of noting constant growth in both faculty and student body. Ours was the joy of reaping what others had sown.”

Seager served as bishop of the Evangelical Church until 1934. He died in 1937 and was buried in Naperville Cemetery. President E.E. Rall, reflecting on his predecessor’s career, noted, “As a man he was beloved by all with whom he came in contact. He will always be remembered as a loyal alumnus of the College, a wise administrator, a sympathetic counselor of students and an outstanding leader of his church.”


Herman J. Kiekhoefer

1889-1910, Third President

Herman J. Kiekhoefer was born in northern Germany in 1849. His family emigrated to the United States in 1862 and settled in the western part of Wisconsin in Trempealeau County.

Kiekhoefer entered Galesville University some 20 miles from home in 1869 and graduated with distinguished honors in 1872. This institution was run at the time by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Wisconsin.

He enrolled immediately thereafter at North-Western College to continue language studies. His knowledge of German was put to good use by German professor Frederick William Heidner, who hired him as an assistant. Kiekhoefer returned to Galesville University in 1874 to teach classical languages and serve as a minister in Wisconsin.

After marrying Sarah Saline Scholz from Racine, Kiekhoefer joined the faculty at the Union Biblical Institute in Naperville to teach Hebrew and systematic and practical theology. He was elected acting president of North-Western College in 1889 by the board, which confirmed his appointment in 1892.

Kiekhoefer believed “character is more than knowledge, but they ought to sustain a reciprocal relation to one another. Knowledge should minister to character, and character give dignity to knowledge.”

During his tenure as president, the south wing of Old Main was completed and electricity was introduced. Kiekhoefer also supervised construction of four new buildings: Nichols Gymnasium, dedicated in 1902; and Carnegie Library, Goldspohn Science Hall and the Boilerhouse, all dedicated in 1908.

Kiekhoefer resigned in 1910 and returned to parish ministry in the Illinois Conference. In 1929 he moved to California, where he died in 1937. He is buried in Naperville Cemetery.


Henry H. Rassweiler

1883-1888, Second President

Henry H. Rassweiler was born in Pennsylvania to a German family that moved to Illinois in 1857. He taught at a district school when he was 17.

He entered Plainfield College in 1862 and was hired as a professor of mathematics and natural science immediately after his graduation with a bachelor of science degree in 1868. His cousin, Charles F. Rassweiler, graduated two years later and served on the faculty until 1886.

Henry Rassweiler met his future wife, Susie Victoria Harlacher, when both were students at the College. They were married in 1868. Together, they lived in a house on Brainard Street on property later acquired by the College. Active in the community, Rassweiler was central to the organization of Grace Evangelical Church and became president of the Naperville Temperance Union.

Rassweiler served as the president of North-Western College from 1883 to 1888. While very popular among students and faculty at the College, he was dismissed by the board for his support of an Illinois amendment that would have required a major change in the composition of the trustees on the board.

Rassweiler opened an insurance business after leaving the College and later served as a College trustee for five years. He spoke at the inauguration of President Seager in 1911 and died in 1928.

At the College’s memorial service, Dr. Albert Goldspohn commented that Rassweiler was “one of the very few men whom [he] had met in his life who seemed to be born to instruct.” President Rall read a message that former President Rassweiler had left for the College: “The warp represents the limitations of heredity and environment. These cannot be changed. However the power lies within each individual to weave within this warp a beautiful pattern of life.”


Augustine Austin (A.A.) Smith

1861-1883, First President

Augustine Austin Smith was born in 1806 on a farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

One of 11 children in a Calvinist family, he grew up valuing hard work and strict discipline. Work on the family farm allowed him to attend school for only two or three months in the winter. He supplemented his formal education with self-study and, at age 17, started teaching at the North Colebrook district school in Connecticut. While there he also attended Lenox Academy to enrich his education.

In 1828 Smith sought new opportunities in northeastern Ohio, an area known as the Western Reserve, where a large number of transplants from Connecticut had settled. He took up residence in Austinburg, where he met Eliza Cowles. They married in 1833. Eliza came from a family whose members had served as trustees and teachers at Oberlin College and other Ohio institutions; the family was also active in the abolitionist movement. Smith and his wife had five children.

Smith held the position of supervisor of accounts at Oberlin College, then taught mathematics and served as principal at the Grand River Institute in Austinburg between 1837 and 1857. He became president of Greensburg Seminary (Evangelical Association) in Summit County, Ohio, in 1857.

Smith was elected president of Plainfield College in 1861, but delayed his arrival in Plainfield until 1862 in order to honor his commitments to Greensburg Seminary. The honorary degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him by Oberlin College before his move to Plainfield. He supervised the move from Plainfield to Naperville and the construction of Old Main.

Smith shaped the educational principles on which the College developed. “A college,” he said, “should be a great moral lighthouse, sending out a clear and steady light upon all subjects that pertain to the well-being of man in this world and the world to come. An institution of learning should be the creator of public sentiment upon all the moral questions of the day, and not the follower of a corrupt public sentiment.”

Smith also cultivated music at the College. He believed that “good music, both secular and sacred, has a refining, elevating, purifying power.” Smith also encouraged students to exercise their bodies as well as their minds, opining that “a sound body is the condition for a sound mind.”

Throughout his tenure, Smith worked for the education of women as well as men: “Woman needs substantially the same education as man; the same physical, intellectual and moral training. She needs it for the same reason that man needs it, for the perfection of her own being, and for preparation for usefulness… I have no fears that woman, if thoroughly educated, will wander far from her proper sphere. I would have her prepared to fill any station she can well fill, and to perform any service which she can well perform.”

Smith retired from the presidency in 1883, but continued to participate in the College’s affairs as president emeritus. In addition to duties as president, Smith served as professor of mental and moral science from his arrival in 1862 until his death on December 8, 1891. Throughout their lives, A.A. Smith and his family actively supported abolition, temperance and women’s rights while fighting racial discrimination. Frances Willard, who headed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was a close friend of the family and often visited the Smith house in Naperville.


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