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EIU Media Relations

"We Are EIU Because of Lou"


The following was printed in the April 18 issue of "The Daily Eastern News," Eastern's student newspaper. Written by Sarah Whitney, a senior journalism major, the article celebrates EIU President Lou Hencken, his 40-plus-year tenure at Eastern, and the fact that he has been named the "Daily Eastern News'" Person of the Year. (Used by permission.)

President Lou Hencken has a secret.

He knows where the women in the Department of Procurement, Disbursements and Contract Services hide their key.

The key opens the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in Connie Downey and Martha Schwerman's cubicle. The drawer opens to a jackpot of candy: Snickers, Reese's Pieces, Tootsie Rolls, Dots and more.

The candy fills a silver pail with blue EIU letters laminated on its side that sits on a shelf and is accessible to anyone traveling through the department. Schwerman started putting the candy out for visitors even before President Hencken became president.

Several years ago, Hencken discovered the pail, which is located across the hall from his office.

"He always called it his 3 o'clock feeding," said Downey, an administrative coordinator for user services, and laughs.

He visits the department about every day unless he's traveling, Downey said. Even on days they don't see him, she suspects he comes in after hours to grab sweets for the drive home.

What's the point of having a master key if you can't use it? Hencken said he always returns the women's cubicle the way he found it, though.

The pail isn't enough to satisfy his sweet tooth.

"I know where all the candy is in Old Main," he said.

Anyone who knows Hencken knows the candy is just a side benefit. It's visiting with people over a Tootsie Roll that he enjoys most.

"I've got a regular routine here in Old Main," he said. "I'm going to miss that."

'Call me Lou'

On July 1, President Hencken will become simply Lou. Not that he isn't already Lou to the majority of campus, but he's retiring as president and will return in the fall as a professor. The move will transfer him from Old Main to Buzzard Hall where he will teach one - maybe two - EIU freshmen foundation classes in addition to his Monday night Board of Trustees class.

President Hencken's decision to retire came after 41 years of service to Eastern Illinois.

"I didn't want to try my best and that not be enough," Hencken said of his decision to retire. "I didn't want to run out of energy because I realized how many people were depending on me. That's why I made the decision."

President Hencken started as a student worker washing dishes in Thomas Hall food services. Then, as a grad assistant, he opened both Taylor Hall and Stevenson Tower. After graduating from Eastern in August 1967 with his master's in counseling and student development, he became the director of housing and dining in 1975. He moved up to associate vice president for student affairs in 1989. Three years later, he became the vice president for student affairs. He was named president in 2001.

President Hencken's administrative team hired Paula Embry, an administrative aid in human resources, when he was director of housing and dining.

One of the first things he said to her was to call him Lou. "Mr. Hencken is my dad's name," he told her.

Last month, Embry earned her 20-year pin the same time Hencken received his 40-year pin. When she went to receive the recognition for her years of service, he still remembered her name, she said.

"He is Lou and is very comfortable in his own skin for people to call him that," said Jill Nilsen, vice president for external relations. "He isn't threatened, doesn't need the title there to make him feel important. People just call him Lou."

The Servant

Lou has a habit of not telling freshmen and prospective students he's the president.

One such time is during Move-in Day. Last August, Hencken shuttled students from Carman Hall to Textbook Rental, to the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union to get their Panther cards, to Booth Library to check the Internet and back to Carman in a six-person golf cart before he turned to them and introduced himself.

Students were shocked when they realized he was also the president.

"Oh my God, you're Lou!" one student said. Others quietly shook his hand while introducing themselves again. Most were surprised that the president of the university was driving students around campus in the rain.

This was not an isolated event.

One Friday evening, Lou, Nilsen and Jeff Cooley, vice president for business affairs, were talking in Old Main when they saw a visiting family walking around the building.

"They were coming to see campus and they wanted to know if admissions was opened," Nilsen said.

"No, they're not. But, you know, let me help you," Lou told them.

He introduced himself as Lou Hencken and then walked them down to admissions, unlocked the door, got them a view book, and then took them in his office, where he talked about campus.

Afterward the mother said to Nilsen: "He is a very nice person. Who is he?"

"Well, that's the university president," she replied.

The Closer

When it comes to fundraising, Lou is a natural. His ability to be down-to-earth and friendly is one of his greatest strengths as president, according to Nilsen.

But fundraising takes more than just glad-handing over a filleted salmon dinner. Donors typically know that we're coming because they've been presented with a proposal beforehand, Nilsen said.

"He (Hencken) is the closer," she said.

Another advantage Lou brings to the president's office is his ability to build relationships.

"It is so much fun to watch him go into an alumni event and make that room come alive. He's so happy to see people. He has such a good time. I think we've seen over the last six years the increasing support for the university through the alumni and our friends in their time and their dollars (because of him)."

When Lou became president in 2001, the university earned an average of $2 million from fundraising. In 2003, Lou leaned over to Nilsen and said to her: "Jill, I want to increase the fundraising average. Give me a goal."

The goal they decided on was to raise $7 million in three years, Lou said. He announced the "You Are EIU" campaign during the 2003 Homecoming. But when he got up and started talking, he accidentally said $10 million.

Nilsen and External Relations didn't blink. They went on to host alumni events throughout the state and across the nation and succeeded in raising the $10 million in less than 2.5 years.

"We ended up reaching $11 million," Lou said. This doesn't include the recent $2.5 million donation from the Tarble family.

The Caretaker

With the recent state cutbacks in higher education, the more money Lou can raise to supplement Eastern's budget the better.

Hencken reflected on Eastern's budget during a walk across campus last summer.

"I suddenly realized how many people literally depend on the president to lead the institution, to go and do the best you can, to go and raise money, make decisions," he said.

Decisions like granting tenure, raising student fees and laying people off. Decision-making is the most challenging part of being president, Lou said.

"I literally make hundreds of decisions every day that affect people," he said.

Lou has had to make tough decisions. In 1994, he was faced with the death of one student and another getting in a serious accident.

"He did then, and still does, take every student that we lose as a very personal tragedy for himself," Nilsen said. "I remember that day...we lost a student to meningitis."

Lou's compassion in making sure that the decisions made that day were in the best interest of the students and their families is something she'll never forget, Nilsen said.

"That was a difficult day for all of us," she said. "That encapsulates his leadership style because he does worry about people."

The Team Player

When Lou talks about his achievements at Eastern, he doesn't use the words, "I" or "me." It's this trait that makes him such an empowering leader, said Blair Lord, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Lord admires Lou's "absolute love and total passion for Eastern." He considers Lou a mentor.

"He's very much a leader who wants to have a highly effective team that works together to deal with the institutional issues that are before us," Lord said.

Faculty Senate chair Assege HaileMariam likes this since Eastern is governed by the idea of shared governance between the students, faculty and administration.

"He's good about consulting with his team," she said. "He doesn't just say we're going to do this and then that."

The vice presidents agree. Since Lou became president more people work together, Nilsen said.

"We don't have walls around our areas. We always try to do what's best for the university and the people in the university and that comes from having a leader who sets that example," she said.

Lord appreciates Lou's accessibility.

"As his provost, I have much freer access than I did with the president at Rhode Island," Lord said. "I can literally walk into his office any time. I truly have open door access to him on demand."

Lord takes advantage of this, sometimes meeting with Lou one-on-one as much as every day, in addition to Lou's weekly meetings with the Academic Affairs division and the President's Council meetings.

The Talker

Good thing Lou likes talking with people.

"I don't know if he's ever met a stranger," Cooley said. "He's able to talk with anybody."

Lou said he likes coming to work every day and even feels guilty if he gets on campus at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. He also looks forward to meetings.

"I enjoy meetings," he said. "One reason is because I think progress is being made. Every time there is a meeting (it's like) OK, we're inching a little closer toward our goal."

Lou's accessible nature can sometimes cause him to run late.

During a trip to Springfield this past February, Nilsen, Cooley and Lord were forced to wait on Lou while he chatted with State Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet).

"It is hard when you go places with him because he stops and talks to everybody," Nilsen said. "And it's like, 'we've got to go, we've got a meeting.'"

He's worse on campus. In the April 4 edition of the Daily Eastern News, Lou said after his successor was named he planned to walk back to Old Main by himself.

This did not happen.

Rich McDuffie, director of athletics, walked with him and invited him and his wife, Mary Kay, to dinner when they reached his office 15 minutes later. On the way there, Lou stopped and talked to Charles Delman, University Professionals of Illinois president; Mayor John Inyart; City Manager Scott Smith, Downey and a university police officer. He also said "hi" to every student he walked past.

Every one wanted to know how he felt.

"I am fine," he would say. And then other times he would elaborate and say: "I know there's a new chapter in my life opening, and I'm looking forward to it."

The Golfer

Cooley is concerned for Lou's golf game after July 1. Right now, when they go golfing they play what Cooley called "Bosses' Golf."

"Nobody is going to beat the boss," he said.

For example, one time while playing with Ken Baker, director of the Student Rec Center, Lou hit the ball off in the woods, Cooley said.

"So, we're wandering in the woods trying to find his ball. He just finds Ken's ball and picks up and moves it," Cooley said. "Then finally he goes over, finds his ball and says, 'Ken I found your ball.'

"So, of course, everybody is looking over where now everybody thinks that was Ken's ball in the woods and the president's ball was on the green."

Lord remembered another time that involved an electric golf cart. They were at the Charleston Golf Club on the fourth hole, which is the farthest hole from the clubhouse, Lord said, when the battery died.

"And yours truly got to push that golf cart all the way back to the garage," Lord said with a laugh.

Lou said he'd turned the dial the wrong way and charged the cart for only one hour instead of 11.

Somebody's got to guide and somebody's got to push, Lou said about his reasoning. But he did feel "terrible" when he realized how heavy the cart was.

When they got back to the clubhouse a worker came out and said: "All you had to do was call me on my cell phone, and I would have come out and towed you."

Lord said that story always brings a smile to his face.

The Giver

Lou is good at making people smile. Mona Davenport, director of Minority Affairs, is one of these people.

"To me, he is a genuinely caring president," she said, noting that she's most impressed with his ability to still relate with students even as an administrator. But his caring extends to everyone on campus - not just students.

When Blair Hall caught on fire, Davenport said most people in the building just thought it was a fire drill.

"We'd all go out, stand for a bit and then come back in," she said. "So I just grabbed my keys."

The fire happened on a Wednesday. The next Friday, Lou did a walk through, she said. While doing so, he saw Davenport's laptop. He knew it was her's because she had a red Delta Sigma Theta sticker on her black case, she said.

She remembered him saying, "Mona, I found your lap top," and then handing it to her.

"It's just little personal things like that," she said of the incident. "That's a caring president."

Schwerman in the Department of Procurement, Disbursements and Contract Services knows how caring and observant Lou can be to details. But she won't be one to tell you that. The reconstruction of Blair Hall eliminated her handicap parking spot.

When Lou found this out, he called parking services and arranged for her to park in the administration's lot across from Old Main, he said.

He didn't elaborate that he'd given her his spot, but Downey said he had.

He wouldn't take no for an answer, she said.

The President

Next fall, 3,000 new students will live in the residence halls, study in the library, play Frisbee in the Library Quad, eat in the union, complain about parking, work out at Lantz, and not know Lou Hencken as president.

"They'll know Bill Perry," Lou said. "And that's okay."

You have to think of some of those things to get ready for retirement, he explained.

HaileMariam said the one thing people have to remember about Lou's presidency is that "He was the right person at the right time."

"His presidency has brought stability to EIU," she said. "And EIU can only go forward."

Last September, Faculty Senate was the first campus body to publicly recognize Lou by passing a resolution recognizing and thanking him for her "lifetime of meritorious service" to Eastern.

A framed copy of it now hangs on his office wall.

"His legacy to me is his service, devotion to students," HaileMariam said.

Lou has shown that devotion through every position he's held.

"That defines him in his professional role," Lord said. "Eastern in many ways is a huge part of his life. That kind of devotion to an institution, in my mind, is quite admirable."

There is no doubt Lou "bleeds blue," as Cooley said, but he has also tried to have fun while doing his job.

"In every job I've ever done, I've tried to have a good time while doing it," Lou said. "And tried to get people around me to enjoy it."

When he was director of housing and dining, he would have chair races down the narrow hallway.

"During break when it was sort of boring down there, we'd just be sitting there," Lou said.

The person next to him edged his chair in front of Lou's and Lou edged back.

"Before we knew it, we were going down the hallway," he said. "It became a tradition."

Mark Hudson, director of housing and dining now, has seen pictures. Although, no one races chairs down the hallway anymore, the candy stayed.

"There is still some candy out there," Hudson said. "We still want Lou to stop by, so we leave the candy out."

That's just Lou. EIU.



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Media Relations
Josh Reinhart, Public Information Coordinator

2142 Old Main
Eastern Illinois University
600 Lincoln Ave.
Charleston, IL 61920
Fax: 217-581-8444

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