FORMER AQUINAS COLLEGE PRESIDENT NORBERT J. HRUBY DIES
May 18, 2010 - Grand Rapids, Michigan (May 18, 2010) - Norbert Hruby (RUE-bee), Ph.D., the beloved and influential second president of Aquinas College, died Tuesday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 92.
Hruby came to Aquinas from Mundelein College in Chicago in 1969, taking the presidential reigns from Monsignor Arthur Bukowski. He took on the responsibility of rejuvenating the small college, which was fading in the shadows of larger universities. He came with a dream to bring the small liberal arts school back to the forefront of higher education, and has been credited with saving not only Aquinas, but many other small colleges through his methods. Even his retirement in 1986 failed to end his influence and presence on campus. Frequent walks with his dog, Guy, would bring Hruby across the street from his house and through campus, keeping him in close contact with the students, faculty and staff, which so benefited from his leadership.
"Two decades after his retirement as president, Norb Hruby is still the image of Aquinas College for many alumni and friends of the College," said Edward Balog, Ph.D., president of Aquinas College. "His determination, creativity, and firm leadership style guided the College through the 70s and 80s, a period of significant change in higher education. The entire community mourns his loss as much as we valued his leadership."
Born February 4, 1918 to a small family in the suburbs of Chicago, Hruby grew up in the rich traditions of a Russian immigrant family with parents who both understood the importance of education. As such, he became the first of his family to ever attend college and in 1939 earned his bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago in English with minors in economics, philosophy and speech. He would go on to earn a master’s degree in 1941 from Loyola in English, and after a brief hiatus to serve as a captain in the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army during WWII returned to finish his doctorate in English in 1951. He also spent a year at Yale University doing graduate study in the department of drama at Yale University.
Hruby’s passion for education stemmed mainly from his old sister, Henrietta, who was one of the first women secretaries in Chicago, and was burdened with the financial support of the family during the Great Depression. However, it was her inability to pursue higher education which inspired Hruby to focus his efforts on creating opportunities for non-traditional aged students, thus becoming a front runner of this new movement in education.
When Hruby came to Aquinas in 1969, he came ready to work and rebuild. At a time when liberal arts colleges were under fire for being too small and undiversified, he came in with a goal to investigate each aspect of the school, and make the necessary changes to breathe life back to Aquinas. Through his “Institutionalized Self-study” Hruby flipped the campus upside down by allowing students to participate fully in the governing structure, incorporating a new and flexible curriculum, and creating extensive placement and counseling services as well as opening a semester of field experience to juniors in order to secure their future success.
By 1970, Aquinas College was back, but Hruby was nowhere close to done. It was time for him to pursue his dream of creating a degree-completion program for adults, which he did with his creation of Career Action. Career Action was an evening program directed toward full-time workers who wanted to get their degree in business and accounting. As part of his program, Hruby hired Paul Nelson, who would later become the fourth president of Aquinas. Then, with the inspiration of his mother, Hruby would start Encore, a day-time program for women who wished for a higher education. These programs would lead to the Continuing Education and Emeritus programs (now Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) which are so popular today.
"Although small in stature, he was a giant of a man in determination and drive to excel. He championed the idea of lifelong learning and making a positive difference in the intellectual life of learners of all ages," stated Paul Nelson.
Hruby’s vision of education brought Aquinas to the forefront of liberal arts colleges, and his degree-completion programs were some of the first in the country. His no-nonsense presence on campus, despite its troubling initiatives at first, successfully made Aquinas into the institution it is today. In fact, his influences were so deep that, when he expressed his desire to retire in 1983, the Board of Trustees spoke up and convinced him to remain three more years, until he finally passed on the presidency in 1986. Other influential initiatives taken by Hruby include a Career Development Center, age-integrated learning, the building of the Art and Music Center, Survival Skills Center and Student Tutoring Service, among many others.
Hruby’s influence did not merely limit itself to Aquinas Campus, but his leadership helped to revive the Eastown community.
Hruby, who was awarded President Emeritus status following his retirement, was also honored by Aquinas on several other occasions, receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1998 and named to the College Hall of Fame in 2004.
He is survived by his three children: Michael Hruby, Monica Rice and Patricia Powell along with three grandchildren. Hruby's wife, Dolores, the "First Lady of Aquinas" died in March 2008.