BY MIKE LEONARD
Over the past decade, it became a tradition in Hank Walter’s family to visit Bloomington at least twice a year and always to include a trip to get gingerbread cookies at Sugar & Spice bakery in the Indiana Memorial Union (IMU).
Now the tempting sweet shop is just down the hall from his new office. Last summer, Walter, 52, was named executive director of the IMU — responsible for the entire 500,000-square-foot building, its facilities, and all of its programs.
“From the time I started out in the college union profession, this place has always been an icon, one of the benchmarks and bright stars in the field. I knew of it long before I ever saw it,” Walter says. “Once I met my wife, got married, and started coming to Bloomington, where she’s from, this kind of became my dream job.”
Walter, who succeeded Bruce Jacobs when he retired, makes it clear that his job is not to rest on the IMU’s reputation, but, rather, to plan its future. “We want to continue to be that campus-community connection and that place where students want to meet and work and study,” he says. At a time when departments and schools at many universities are trying to establish their own communities, student unions have become even more important as hubs for the entire university and places for a diversity of educational and entertainment experiences, he says.
Walter grew up in Champaign, Illinois, where his father was a University of Illinois (UI) mathematics professor and his mother was a librarian. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he worked for the UI student union, took time off to earn a master’s degree in higher education at Harvard University, and then served as associate director and chief operating officer at the University of Wisconsin’s student union for 10 years.
His wife, Elizabeth, grew up in Bloomington, the daughter of Dick Rubin, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Wendy Rubin, a longtime librarian at Monroe County Public Library. Elizabeth graduated from Bloomington High School South and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from IU. The couple have three children, twins Ben and Aliya, 9, and Maya, 6.
“I’ve been amazed at how quickly this place feels like home,” Walter says of both Bloomington and the IMU. “It feels like the place I want to be until I retire.”