DeKALB – Julie Konczyk thinks that Northern Illinois University President John Peters was focused on students.
Starting as an undergraduate student in 2003, and now as the credit coordinator in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, Konczyk remembers when she first met Peters at a football game in 2006.
“You’d see him and he’d shake your hand and just always be very open, despite obviously being a very busy man,” Konczyk said. “... You got that sense that he wanted to talk to you.”
Konczyk was among the 200 or so people who attended Monday’s farewell ceremony for NIU’s outgoing 11th president. Peters will retire June 30.
Students, alumni, university officials and community leaders flocked to the event that featured some of Peters’ colleagues reflecting on his time at the university. Speakers included Robert Boey, the vice chairman of NIU’s Board of Trustees, and Ray Alden, NIU’s executive vice president and provost.
Speakers praised the changes that have occurred since Peters became president in 2000. They mentioned the university’s True North fundraising campaign, which brought in more than $180 million, and the construction of campus buildings including Barsema Hall and the new residence hall.
They remembered Peters’ character and leadership in handling the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting on campus. A former NIU student walked into Room 101 of Cole Hall shortly after 3 p.m. that day, and opened fire, killing five students, and injuring at least 16 others before killing himself.
How Peters reacted to the tragedy stood out to Laura Gallagher, a sophomore mechanical engineering major.
“I love how he brought [the university] back from that tragedy ... to make NIU stronger and show how much NIU cares,” Gallagher said.
And it made an impression on Erin Ortiz, a senior physical therapy major, who met Peters at an event for incoming NIU freshmen.
“Even though they weren’t his kids, he still cared for them,” Ortiz said.
Alden, in particular, praised Peters’ wife, Barbara, for her role as the president’s sounding board, confidante, and sometimes, only friend. He described her as playing a crucial role in the memorial after the shooting.
“She quietly helped set the tone for the integrity of that event,” Alden said.
The ceremony saw the unveiling of Peters’ official presidential portrait, which will be displayed on the third floor of Altgeld Hall next to the other university presidents’ portraits. Peters walked away from the ceremony with a couple of gifts, too.
There was the Orange Bowl ring, given to him by Jon Steinbrecher, the Mid-American Conference commissioner, and a photo collage of him and his wife that NIU staff made.
Douglas Baker, the executive vice president of the University of Idaho, in Moscow, will take over for Peters on July 1, but the outgoing president said he will be around. Peters said he would probably do some guest lectures and help with NIU’s fundraising campaigns.
His contract with NIU has him acting as a transition adviser to Baker for the first year, although he described his successor as an extremely able person.
“Anything he wants, I can provide,” Peters said. “I know how hard it is when you don’t know anyone here.”