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Director of Athletics Bob Bonn announces plans to retire

September 13, 2017

Athletic Director Bob Bonn stands on the recently renovated Art Keller Field.

Bob Bonn, who has piloted Carthage’s intercollegiate sports program throughout its 25-year upward arc, plans to retire as director of athletics next summer.

“I’ve been extremely proud and fortunate to be part of the Carthage community,” he said. “I don’t know another college in America that has gone through the improvement and development that ours has.”

Mr. Bonn, 65, chose to make the announcement months in advance to give the College plenty of time to identify his successor.

“Although I’ve been here only a short time, I am in awe of the program that Bob Bonn has built at Carthage,” said President John R. Swallow. “I know we will miss him tremendously, but no one could be more deserving of the chance to enjoy the next chapter in life.”

Under Mr. Bonn’s leadership, Carthage has added nine sports for a total of 24 NCAA Division III teams. Likewise, most of the school’s 115 banners — signifying conference championships and top-eight national finishes — have been raised in that span.

Deflecting the credit, he views the thriving athletics program as a broader success story.

“I’ve just been on watch,” he said. “The accomplishments, that’s just a tremendous group effort.”

Beyond the X’s and O’s

Seeking someone to provide “consistent, visionary leadership over a long period of time,” then-president F. Gregory Campbell brought the relatively young basketball coach and administrator to Carthage from Pacific University in 1992. Mr. Bonn embraced the three-pronged approach to develop a student’s mind, body, and spirit.

He points out that the Athletic Department’s influence reaches far beyond the playing surface. Administrators past and present have noticed.

“Across the past 25 years, in reviving and building the Athletic Department, Bob Bonn has contributed fundamentally to reviving and building Carthage itself,” Mr. Campbell said.

Recruiting played a major role in the enrollment surge, for one thing. In 2016-17, Red Men and Lady Reds rosters totaled 779 athletes — about 28 percent of the student body. They earned a 3.09 average GPA and devoted 3,000 combined hours to community service.

Growth necessitated a major investment in facilities, with athletics a central focus in the building boom. Since Mr. Bonn arrived, the College has added the Tarble Arena, N. E. Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center, Smeds Tennis Center, and Carthage Softball Field, while completing major renovations to Augie Schmidt and Art Keller fields.

He and his staff also secured about $10 million in gifts, in part allowing the College to endow funds for each sport. The total athletic endowment now approaches $3 million.

That’s a rarity for a school this size, according to Mr. Bonn, who honed his fundraising skills in the National Association of Athletic Development Directors. A past president of the organization, he remains the only official from a Division III program to hold that office.

Over a quarter-century, Mr. Bonn has seen Carthage develop into a highly attractive destination for student-athletes.

“We have been blessed with excellent coaching and leadership,” he said. “As you add facilities and other programs, students see, ‘This place can really help me.’”

Strong, student-centered guidance

A college letterwinner in baseball and lacrosse, Mr. Bonn went on to earn a doctorate in sport psychology and sociology from Boston University in 1983. After early career stops in Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Oregon, he found a long-term fit in Kenosha.

Carthage red permeates the family. Mr. Bonn’s wife, Michele, has a head start in retirement; besides teaching exercise and sport science (EXSS), she had stints as registrar and director of advising. One of their two sons, Steven, graduated from Carthage in 2010, and the other, Ryan, is an adjunct faculty member in the Chemistry Department.

For his first 24 years on campus, Mr. Bonn also chaired the EXSS department, whose programs in athletic training and physical education, sport and fitness instruction both blossomed. He finds it telling that graduate assistants who work with Carthage’s teams while pursuing a Master of Education in leadership consistently land permanent jobs in the field.

For years, Mr. Bonn reported to Mr. Campbell. The president emeritus teased that he eventually brought in senior vice president Bill Abt to mediate his meetings with the “strong and feisty” athletic director.

“If you looked at Bill,” Mr. Campbell said with a chuckle, “you’d think he was watching a tennis match.”

With difficult decisions around every corner, Mr. Bonn acknowledges the job can be demanding. He accepted that none of the options would please everyone.

“As long as the decision was made for the welfare of the students, I always thought, ‘I did a good job today,’” he said.

Using that barometer, Mr. Abt judges them all to be good days. He supervised Mr. Bonn in the years leading up to his own retirement in 2015.

Still the College’s chief investment officer, Mr. Abt wrote a tribute to his close friend for the annual Red Men/Lady Reds Open golf outing.

“Over the years, I have witnessed numerous times when a student-athlete has approached you with a question, a problem, or just to say ‘Hello,’” he wrote. “In all of these situations, it was very evident that the student had a tremendous amount of respect for you, wanted your guidance, and valued your friendship.”

It’s difficult for Mr. Bonn to reduce his favorite Carthage memories to a highlight reel. “There’s a memory for every sport,” he said, “and it always centered on a team celebration of success.”

Mr. Bonn plans to step away from the role after the Red Men/Lady Reds Open in June. To assist in the leadership transition, however, he will remain on staff in an advisory capacity through fall 2018.

“I am deeply appreciative of Bob’s willingness to stay on as my special assistant,” said President Swallow, “and I will welcome his wise counsel even further into the future.”