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WMU mourns loss of former president Haenicke

Feb. 15, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Longtime Western Michigan University President Diether H. Haenicke died today. He was 73.

Haenicke, who battled a heart condition for many years, died at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, where he was being treated for complications from a head injury that occurred when he suffered a cardiac arrest in December. Following emergency brain surgery Feb. 12, he declined quickly, according to his family.

Haenicke, president emeritus and distinguished professor at WMU, served as the University's fifth president from 1985 to 1998, and also served one year as interim president in 2006-07 during the national search that brought current president Dr. John M. Dunn to Kalamazoo.

In a message today to the WMU community, Dunn called Haenicke, "one of the University's greatest treasures" and noted that he was "a giant among his contemporaries" who was "unwavering in his commitment to intellectual rigor and excellence."

"While we will miss him and his quick wit and infectious laugh, his footprint on this campus will remain forever," Dunn wrote.

During Haenicke's original 13-year presidency, WMU experienced significant growth in research, private support and enrollment. The University conducted a successful $62 million capital campaign and several major buildings were constructed, including the Student Recreation Center, University Computing Center, Lee Honors College, Gilmore Theatre Complex and Schneider Hall, home of the Haworth College of Business. Other major facilities were renovated and expanded, including Waldo Library, Read Fieldhouse and Waldo Stadium.

Among other major accomplishments during his tenure were increased recognition of WMU as a research institution and the successful application to Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society, to authorize a campus chapter of that organization at WMU. The latter made the University one of fewer than 100 public institutions in the nation so honored.

Following his tenure as president, Haenicke returned to the faculty in 1998 and officially retired from WMU as president emeritus in 2004. He returned to the presidency in 2006, after being asked by WMU trustees to take the position on an interim basis while the University sought a new president.

During his second presidency, Haenicke reinvigorated the institution's reputation for student service and embraced the use of technology to stay in touch with students and hear their views. He returned to private life in 2007 at age 72 with more than 1,500 Facebook "friends."

Born and raised in Germany, Haenicke came to the United States as a Fulbright lecturer in the early 1960s. He immigrated and became a naturalized U.S. citizen 10 years later. He earned a doctorate, magna cum laude, in 1962 from the University of Munich. His major fields of study were German and comparative literature, history, psychology and philosophy.

Prior to coming to WMU, Haenicke served in academic administration as department chair, dean and provost for Wayne State University and as dean and academic vice president and provost for Ohio State University. He was the author of more than 200 publications and papers on literature, history, academic administration, international study and educational finance.

A widely respected scholar, Haenicke was honored in 2002 by colleagues around the globe who created a Festschrift in honor of his 65th birthday. A Festschrift is a rare academic honor in which professional colleagues collect and publish one or more volumes of essays or articles to celebrate the lifetime achievement of a distinguished academic colleague.

Shortly after his 1998 retirement from the WMU presidency, Haenicke began writing a popular weekly column in the Kalamazoo Gazette, which he continued into 2009. A collection of his weekly columns, "Wednesdays with Diether," was published in book form by the Gazette in 2003.

Haenicke served as board member for numerous civic, arts and charitable organizations, including Bronson Methodist Hospital, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the Greater Kalamazoo United Way.

A lifelong advocate of study abroad programs, Haenicke's passion for the topic was celebrated in 1998 when the University gathered its international operations under one umbrella organization and named it for him. The Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education is responsible for area studies courses, Universitywide internationalization of academics and faculty, and the Office of Study Abroad. It also encompasses the Office of International Affairs and Office of International Student and Scholar Services, as well as the Career English Language Center for International Students.

Haenicke championed increased research at WMU, and also named in his honor is Diether H. Haenicke Hall, a four-story, 94,800-square-foot science research facility. It features more than 60 laboratories and two specialized teaching areas that support advanced research and teaching for the departments of biological sciences, chemistry, geosciences and psychology. Construction of the building began during his tenure as president, and it was dedicated in 1999.

Haenicke is survived by his wife, Carol, of Kalamazoo; daughter and son-in-law Jennifer and Christopher Haenicke, also of Kalamazoo; son and daughter-in-law Kurt and Stephenie Haenicke of Lisle, Ill.; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are not yet set, but will be handled through Betzler Life Story Funeral Home on Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo. The family and the University will announce details as they become available.

Related articles
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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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