Longest-serving NIU trustee praised for vision, generosity, community service

Nearly a quarter of century after helping to create NIU’s first independent governing board, Bob Boey has decided to turn the page.  Today’s Board of Trustees meeting was his last, as the successful engineer, businessman and community leader has decided to retire.

“Twenty-two years is a long time,” said Boey, NIU’s longest-serving trustee.  It’s not easy to walk away from something you’ve spent so many years on, but I’m ready to wake up in the morning without any specific place to be or task to complete.”

Bob Boey speaking at commencement.

Boey was among the first people appointed by former Governor Jim Edgar to serve on NIU’s new board beginning in January of 1996.  Among the projects he helped oversee during the next two decades were construction of the Engineering Building, Barsema Hall, LaTourette Hall, the Latino Center, Campus Child Care, NIU-Naperville, the Convocation Center, the Barsema Alumni and Visitor’s Center, the Northern View Community and New Residence Hall.

Beyond building projects, Boey successfully helped lobby for NIU’s ability to keep its own tuition revenue rather than sending it to Springfield for reapportionment – a move that has helped NIU weather serious financial storms.  He served two terms as board chair, and also co-chaired two presidential searches in 1999-2000 and again in 2012-2013.

Throughout his time on the board, colleagues say he set the tone for respectful and productive interaction.

“Trustee Boey has served with uncompromising dignity and respect,” said current Board Chair Wheeler Coleman.  “The board will truly miss his commitment to our university and his understanding of the greater DeKalb-area community.  He is the essence of a true servant.”

“Bob Boey is the consummate gentleman,” wrote former trustee Cherilyn Murer.

“He is kind and always interested in others, and his devotion to our university has never wavered.  Each vote and each comment always rang true with the best interest of NIU at heart.  His contributions have been formidable.”

Bob Boey’s commitment to NIU predates his service on the university’s governing board:  In the 1980s when the University began offering engineering courses, Boey offered space at his company’s Sycamore campus for classes. Numerous engineering graduates have found employment with American Bare Conductor, a major manufacturer of copper wire, and former Sycamore mayor Ken Mundy credits Boey with having brought hundreds of jobs to his city over the years. Former NIU Presidents John La Tourette and John Peters have also lauded Boey for his business acumen, and community service contributions.

“Bob’s collaboration with us in establishing engineering, characterized his very supportive relationship with the university long before he became a member of the first Board of Trustees in 1996,” said former president John La Tourette.

“Bob was always willing to do whatever NIU needed him to do,” said former president John Peters.  “Even before coming on our board, he understood the important role that NIU plays in the community, and he supported the university 100%.  Once he was on our board, he offered wise counsel and, when we needed it, constructive criticism.”

Current board member Tim Struthers of DeKalb says Boey has set a strong example for aspiring community leaders.

“Bob has always stood out from the crowd on many fronts,” Struthers said.  “He’s a successful businessman, a world traveler, a cultured gentleman and a connoisseur of food like I’ve never seen.  Beyond that, he is highly devoted to his wife and two kids, and involved in advancing our community at a level that is second to none.”

“Bob’s 22-year commitment as a trustee is impressive and hard for me to truly comprehend.  I would conservatively estimate that he has given more than 12,000 hours – or six years of a full-time job – to his service at NIU.”

John Butler has served on the board with Boey for a decade, and said the retiring trustee has been a role model for effective, unassuming leadership.

“Over the years, I learned that Bob cares deeply about NIU and the success of its leadership, programs, faculty and students,” Butler said.  “He is an approachable and direct person who speaks truthfully and frankly, and is generous with his support and advice. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him.”

Boey’s role as a conduit to the larger community was born of deep involvement in DeKalb County development efforts.  He helped found the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, served on the boards of Kishwaukee Community Hospital, First National Bank of Illinois, and Kishwaukee College, and was a member of the City of DeKalb Planning Commission and the DeKalb Citizens’ Community Enhancement Committee.

Both Bob and Doris Boey have been generous philanthropists, serving on the NIU Foundation Board and the Kishwaukee College Foundation Board and spearheading several major fundraising projects.  Bob’s extensive community service earned him numerous awards, including the Humanitarian Award for Community Service and the Outstanding Volunteer Award from the NIU Foundation; the Clifford Danielson Outstanding Citizen Award from the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce; and the Friend of the Child Award from Community Coordinated Child Care (4C).

 “Bob’s involvement with NIU and the larger community is something that would be hard to replicate,” said current NIU Trustee Dennis Barsema.

“Bob Boey is the epitome of class and grace.  Over the span of the last three decades, his words and actions have been instrumental to NIU’s success. His demeanor has made him the ideal chair of numerous committees, and he has always found a way to exceed expectations.  And throughout it all, Doris has been by his side at every NIU and community event.  They make NIU better just by being part of everything we do.”

Bob and Doris have celebrated their own heritage by acting as mentors and advocates for Asian student at both Kishwaukee College and NIU.  In the early 2000s, Bob and Doris were instrumental in pushing the creation of both programming and a facility for Asian students on NIU’s campus.  They have attended and spoken at Asian American Resource Center events, and helped purchase needed equipment for the facility that has housed Asian Student programs since 2002.

“Bob Boey has been a strong and persistent advocate for the Asian American Resource Center at NIU,” said Acting President Lisa Freeman.  “One of my goals is to enhance the Center’s resources, and improve its facilities, so that it can grow and thrive. My commitment to that effort is in large part due to the compelling advocacy of Trustee Boey.”

For his own part, Boey says he takes pride in seeing how many NIU graduates go on to be successful advocates in their own communities.

“We’ve made a name for NIU nationally over the past couple of decades,” Boey observed.  “It’s not easy to walk away from work you’ve spent so many years on, but you know that others are prepared to take up the job, and maybe you’ve helped build the road that they’ll walk on in the future.”

“If I could give any advice to people who want to be community leaders, it would be to pay special attention to causes that support education at all levels. That’s the future.  And stay active in whatever you choose to support – being active is the key to being a good citizen.”

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