VP Lou Stark leaves a legacy of service as he retires


Clay Preusch / The Observer

In light of news of Lou Stark’s retirement, the CWRU community celebrates his work as an educator, leader and friend for students and faculty on campus.

Grace Johnson, News Editor

Walking into Vice President Lou Stark’s office, I was immediately struck by the homeliness of it all. Pictures of Stark with family and friends filled the shelves, along with photographs with students, past and present. The photographs spoke to a larger truth about the kind of person Lou Stark is: someone who treats his job like his family. 

The university announced his impending retirement as Vice President of Student Affairs last month. When asked how he felt about the decision, Stark responded, “I’ve kind of been thinking about it over the last two years or so. I’ve really, just so enjoyed working with President Kaler since he’s come that it actually made the decision a little harder to make. And I think that as I think about my future, I don’t know that I’ll retire totally. I may be interested in doing something outside of typical higher education, but I haven’t really come to grips that it’s really happening.”

Students also haven’t come to terms with it, either. During his tenure here, he helped found the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative, which he claims is the accomplishment he is “most proud of.” However, he did not like the idea of it being his personal accomplishment. Rather he claimed, “it’s about all of us as a team.” This attitude was reflected in the way other people spoke of him: a friendly and kind face, always willing to listen and work together as a team. Case Western Reserve University alumna and current attorney Allison Smith Newsome said of him, “It was evident that he truly cared for the students and our success.”

Another alumna, Brittany Chung, carried this same sentiment: “He listens to others, processes what he has heard, asks follow-up questions to better understand, does not invalidate one’s feelings, and takes action either through how he believes he is able to help or through the means requested.”

Even in brief interactions with Stark through residence life and other avenues, his warmth and dedication to listening to and supporting students are extremely evident. When meeting with Stark, he could identify Observer staff members by name and made efforts to ask questions about ourselves before the interview even began as if we were old friends, just popping by for an informal chat.

His cordial and welcoming personality has contributed to how he has been such a force at our institution all of these years. In creating the Student Presidents’ Roundtable, Stark has been able to create channels of communication between different members of the community, which he believes is incredibly valuable. “To [have] those groups work collaboratively with each other and then have an Allocations Committee probably has helped in that sense of developing community over time,” Stark says. Watching CWRU change and evolve since he began working here 13 years ago has been one of his favorite parts of being here, he claims. 

However, his job has its challenges and when asked about them, he, once again, was more concerned with others. “Student crisis is always the hardest part of the job and each time it happens it takes a piece of you,” Stark says. “If you ever get used to that kind of thing, then you’ve been in this kind of work too long.” 

Despite the challenges, he tries to be there for students with a smile and a listening ear. When observing him and other administrators tackle the issue of COVID-19 during the pandemic, he ensured student success and health ran through all discussions. When students raised concerns or felt unsafe, Stark was quick to hear them out and try to fix that problem. When students wanted vaccines, Stark helped get them dispersed. These are the types of things that make someone a strong and capable leader, attributes that Stark so strongly possesses.

Like all members of the community, leaders need help and support, too—even something as small as getting a temporary key when they are locked out. Chung told me about a time even VP Stark locked himself out: “Lou had just moved to Cleveland to begin his tenure at CWRU and he was staying in the Village while he found his house. He got locked out of his room after walking his dog, Flower, so he came into the office to get another key and I was working that day.” So, the next time you are ashamed that you need to call the RA on-call, remember that even the Vice President of Student Affairs needs help sometimes.

Though Stark will be missed at student events, he will be staying in the Cleveland community, not too far from campus. When asked about any exciting plans for his upcoming retirement, he told me about a forthcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand with his wife, and a new goal of learning to play golf.

Stark has been an integral piece of our campus for so many years and has worked under a number of presidents, all while exuding joy and listening. These attributes have made him such a successful part of our greater CWRU community. 

We at The Observer wish him all the best in his future endeavors and do hope he won’t stay in Australia for too long. Whoever replaces him will be left big shoes to fill. The legacy he leaves is one which characterizes him, as Chung so eloquently put, as “[a] supporter of students, an administrator who treated students as individuals, who listened and did what was in his power to help, cheered students’ successes and comforted us when we felt we failed and [was] a role model in how to treat people in and outside of a professional setting.”