From university administrators to colleagues and student leaders, Ken Gros Louis touched lives on the Bloomington campus for more than a half-century. Below are the IU community’s responses to Gros Louis’ passing and the mark he made on the university.Submit a statement
How we remember Ken Gros Louis
Indiana University will be forever grateful for all of Ken’s efforts to strengthen the core missions of the university that have left such an indelible mark on thousands of IU students, faculty, alumni and friends around the country and all over the world. He was a remarkable man deeply dedicated to the university and the Bloomington campus.
—IU President Michael A. McRobbie
For many, Ken simply was IU, and this is especially true for generations of IU student leaders. He was their best and truest guide and mentor and stayed in touch with them long after they left campus. His deadpan sense of humor coupled with his deep erudition and devotion to the academic mission endeared him to us as faculty. It is hard to imagine an Indiana University without Ken.
—IU Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel
Ken himself was not a revolutionary. Yet he was an ally of those who pushed academic and cultural boundaries. Herman B Wells wrote that, to be a successful university leader, one ideally should be born with the physical charm of a Greek athlete, the cunning of Machiavelli, the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of a lion. Ken possessed all those qualities, but I would add a few more. The grace with language of a Romantic-era poet. The self-discipline of a Zen master. A late-night TV host’s mischievous wit and ability to find delight in absurdity. And, most importantly, the soul of Herman B Wells himself: a deep understanding of the purpose of a university, and an insistence that we always honor the history, traditions and values of this particular university.
—Steve Sanders, associate professor, Maurer School of Law
Ken was a wonderful guide for me as I served Indiana University for nearly a decade as Chancellor of the Kokomo campus. He was always available with wise words, advice and counsel.
—Ruth J. Person, chancellor emerita, IU Kokomo
As a faculty member who was hired and then mentored by Ken Gros Louis, I grieve his loss personally. He became a beloved friend of my family as well as a beacon of wit and intellectual generosity who contributed immeasurably to the IU community.
—Susan Gubar, Ruth N. Halls professor emeritus of English in the IU College of Arts and Sciences
I have long thought of Ken as a ‘disciple’ of Herman B Wells. Someone who understood at his core the value of education and the privilege of teaching and learning. Ken was a champion of just causes. When a support service for gay students was proposed in the late 1980’s, Ken was its strongest ally and when the GLBT office (now the LGBTQ+ Culture Center) opened in 1994, he celebrated with us in his own quiet ways with words of encouragement and a significant gift to establish our library.
I remember the year a Student Coalition brought a series of demands to Ken regarding the establishment of a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, providing additional support for the GLBT office, creating a center for Asian-American students, and strengthening the Latino Studies program. Ken told me, years later, that he allowed the students to think they were ‘demands’, but in his mind, they were simply good ideas and he was happy to help them bear fruit. Ken was a friend to students, an esteemed colleague, a lover of poetry, a consummate administrator, a gift to Indiana University and I will miss him a great deal.
—Doug Bauder, Director, LGBTQ+ Culture Center
From a wealth—and that is precisely the word—of memories of Ken Gros Louis I select three. First is his custom of reading poetry at Bloomington commencements and at as many other public occasions as he could manage. Over the decades he read poems to tens of thousands of people, just one sign of his deep commitment to literature and the humanities as a fundamental part of liberal education. And then there is his determination to keep in touch with undergraduates all through his career, by teaching an undergraduate seminar during the years he served as chancellor, for example, and maintaining friendships with student leaders during and after their time on campus. Finally, as chair, as dean, and as chancellor he gave me many interesting things to do, from organizing conferences for Indiana college and university English teachers to thinking about the first year of undergraduate education. All of that is what good administrators, and good teachers, do: open possibilities for others to engage and enlarge their interests and abilities. Ken was a really good administrator, and a really good teacher. I was lucky to have known and worked with him for so many years, and the university was lucky to have his long and remarkably varied service.
—Don Gray, professor emeritus, English and Culbertson chair emeritus, English, The College of Arts and Sciences
Ken was my mentor and supporter especially during the sixteen years as the director of the Groups Program. He was a leader who loved and respected IU tradition but wanted to enhance more diverse student inclusion on campus. I personally thank him so much because during my tenure and his unwavering support over five thousand first-generation, low-income students throughout the state were able to attend Indiana University. This too is a part of his great legacy.
—Janice Wiggins, previously the director of the Groups Student Support Services Program at IU
Ken always talked about and was most proud of the public access mission of IUB. He was always citing the numbers of students that graduated in spite of their challenging backgrounds. He really did believe that taking a chance on a student or a young faculty member was one of the key missions of public higher ed. I don't really think of Ken as someone focused on the “best and brightest” although he was a nurturer of talent, but rather, the under privileged, working class, minority student and making sure we had the retention programs and support services in place for those students. He was possibly the first and definitely one of the most public administrative champion for GLBT support services, Groups Program, etc.
—Kelly Kish, deputy chief of staff and Bicentennial director
Ken was a dear friend as well as caring colleague. He represented IU at its best. When I first came to IU, Ken reached out and guided me time and time again, as we worked together to strengthen the university that meant so much to us both. A motto we adopted at the time was “One University, Eight Front Doors,” to represent the reality that IU is one university with eight campuses. Ken gave me a framed present of that saying—with the words in Latin. That is just the kind of puckish good humor that continually brightened our work together, even on the darkest days. Ken loved Indiana University, and Indiana University loved Ken. He was a giant whom I will always remember.
—Tom Ehrlich, Indiana University president, 1987–94
We have lost a very special friend and a dedicated Hoosier. The passing of Ken Gros Louis is a big loss for the entire IU family. His knowledge of the University’s history, understanding of its culture and traditions and his responsiveness to requests for assistance in addressing IU’s institutional needs definitely will be missed.
During my tenure as President, he was a constant source of advice, assistance and friendship. He willingly accepted additional responsibilities to strengthen the Bloomington campus and the entire University. In all his actions, he established and maintained very high academic and professional standards for himself and through his example demanded the same of others. I feel very fortunate to have had the privilege of knowing, learning from and working so closely with Ken.
Indiana University is very fortunate to have had such a strong leader in key leadership roles for so many decades. His love of the University, his strong core values, and his selflessness are a justifiable source of pride and serve as a model for us all as we reflect on and learn from his impressive life story.
—Adam Herbert, Indiana University president, 2003–07
Chancellor Gros Louis was a man of words—always the right words at the right time! If he was the featured speaker at any event, my anticipation for that event would increase because I knew he would have something to say, and he would say it with class, wit, and intelligence. I treasure the one email I received from him not long after I started at IU as a lowly visiting lecturer. He sent a short email acknowledging a fairly routine accreditation document I wrote as part of my job. His appreciation for that task built my professional confidence immensely and cemented my appreciation for Chancellor Gros Louis. This is the passing of a giant.
—Victoria M. Getty, M.Ed., R.D.N., Senior Lecturer and Director, Didactic Program in Dietetics
Thousands of Indiana University alumni and friends stand in the light of Ken’s every good wish. Anyone who spent time with him was sure to feel this way. The humblest of individuals, he insisted every relationship was a mutual accommodation. KGR had an incredible talent to speak words of motivation into the lives of students during their formative years; and they have never forgotten his impact is far more than a footnote in what they went on to accomplish. Ken was masterful at engaging gently into each conversation. He had a keen ability to quickly articulate intellectual wisdom that made every conversation meaningful. I celebrate his life as an “eternal instant” that represents many special conversations from the past and carry on to the future through all of us.
—Brent Pieper, Indiana Memorial Union Board President, 1996, and member of the John Whittenberger Society
It was my great fortune to work for Ken Gros Louis for many years and in several capacities. One year, he appointed me “student liaison” but in only a few months revoked the title and changed my duties, not because I had failed in the position, but because he wanted to be the one to meet with the students himself, a tendency that never ceased for the rest of his life. No book, unfortunately, was left behind for those of us who mourn Ken, but he left us something far more important: a good life, a series of lasting accomplishments, literally thousands who were proud to call him their friend, and, ultimately, a campus vastly better than it would have been had he not led it for so many years. At various points in my career, I would visit Ken as I was embarking on some new job or adventure, within the university or across the country. Each time he would offer congratulations, but then look me in the eye and say, “Go out there and do something good.” It was, after all, the only thing he ever wanted from anyone, especially himself.
—Michael Wilkerson, Director, Arts Administration, SPEA
I am deeply saddened to hear that Chancellor Emeritus of Indiana University and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Ken R. R. Gros Louis has passed away. He served IU as faculty, Chair of the English Department, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Chancellor of the Bloomington Campus, and truly an advocate for students. He always made time for students, and promoted equality and diversity. He was to be seated at my table this evening for the Union Board Biennial Reunion Dinner, where he was a frequent keynote speaker. In addition, he is an honorary life member of the John Whittenberger Society. Rest in Peace, Ken. I will miss our chats in your office, your incredible stories which you always told with a great smile, and your friendship. I’m truly a better person and alumni leader for knowing you for these past 27 years.
—Chris Carroll, President, John Whittenberger Society and former Union Board President (1990)
Many of his colleagues and friends have already testified to Ken’s outstanding record--as teacher, researcher, and especially as a skilled and open-minded administrator over many decades, including his post-retirement role as IU’s University Chancellor during the final 13 years of his life.
One of innumerable tales I can tell about Ken is about my first meeting with him in November, 1963, at what was then Idlewild (now JFK) airport. C. L. (Joe) Barber, IU’s English Department Chair, had alerted us to be on the lookout for one another, and we did indeed do just that.
As Ken and I moved slowly to board the plane which would take us to Indianapolis (where we were to be met by two young assistant professors, Stuart Sperry and Jim Justus), I lost sight of Ken. How had he vanished so swiftly?
Having boarded and settled into my seat, I soon saw Ken slowly making his way from the front of the plane and down the aisle toward me, skillfully carrying two tall narrow wine glasses. “Here,” he said as he sat down next to me, handing me a flute of champagne. Having toasted one another, Ken was quick to reveal that he had entered the plane through the door to First Class, where his wide, luxurious seat (and good food and drink) had been waiting for him.
He told me that he always flew first class to campuses which had invited him for pre-MLA interviews. That way, he explained, he would arrive more relaxed and rested and with an unrumpled suit. He suggested that in the future, I should do the same. He stood up in the aisle (as our plane was about to leave for the runway), tapped my shoulder, and escorted me to the first-class section where he was met by a stewardess who asked: “Is this your good friend who was sitting in the wrong section?” and who pointed, no more questions asked, to my new seat next to Ken’s.
It was then that I had a sudden and prophetic epiphany: Ken would, beyond any doubt, become a major player as dean or chancellor at whatever higher educational institution was fortunate enough to hire him. I will miss him.
—Lewis H. Miller Jr., Professor of English, Emeritus
Ken was a legend in the student leader community during my 4 years at Indiana (2011–2015). Even to students who hadn’t met him, he was known for his wit, love for engaging with students, immense university knowledge, and sense of humor.
One memory in particular stands out when I reflect on my memories with Ken. I was thrilled my junior year when Ken reached out to invite the executives of the IU Student Association to his office for lunch. We visited him in Whittenberger Hall, where he had Jimmy Johns sandwiches ready for us to devour. We discussed our agenda for the year, and he showed off his tap dancing skills! I'll never forget how valued Ken made me feel as a contributor to the campus community.
—Katy Flanigan, Class of 2015, Board of Aeons President 2014–15, IU Student Association Chief of Staff 2013–14
Ken Gros Louis was one of the staunchest supporters of the Wells Scholars Program. He was instrumental in its founding and stayed connected with it over the years. He never missed one of our interview weekends, conversing easily with the students who had been nominated and helping them feel at ease during one of the most stressful experiences of their lives. He not only helped select our Scholars—his dry wit and personal warmth were much in evidence in the comments he submitted—but he also mentored many of them personally during their years at Indiana University. Ken was our guest of honor at our welcome receptions in August and always the first one I would acknowledge: a true gentleman, whose elegance, charm, and dry wit delighted and elevated all those around him. I can still see him, sitting at his table at the front of the hall, raising his hand and smiling slightly when his name was read, listening intently and with pleasure as the names of the new Wells Scholars were announced. I will always keep that place in the hall free for him; Ken will remain with us in spirit as we move on, because we have to, without him. Thank you, Ken.
—Christoph Irmscher, director, Wells Scholars Program; Provost Professor of English
Ken was the bellwether of the Bloomington campus. For so many students, faculty, and alumni, Ken embodied the historical identity of the University that Dr. Wells so carefully cultivated: academically superlative, internationally engaged, yet unceasingly kind—the total Hoosier. Ken shared those values with all whose paths crossed his own. His ability to listen was matchless, his perspective was invaluable, and his nudging encouragement was nothing short of empowering. Over generations—generations!—students have sought his counsel as they navigated the University’s processes and structures, only to return as alumni who still needed his wisdom, wit, and intellect. And the results of his tireless efforts speak for themselves.
—Luke Fields, Alumnus and former IUSA president, 2008–09
Chancellor Gros Louis was a mentor during my time at IU from '89-'93. Having taken his honors Philosophy course as a freshman, the Chancellor's impact both educationally and as a leader on our class was profound. One wonderful memory I'll always cherish is the night Chancellor Gros Louis and his wife, Dee, invited our class to dinner. Together they cooked some of the most amazing lasagna ever tasted! Our class grew together -- and our love for the Chancellor grew even greater. Sadly, his wife died years before him. I was touched by the Gros Louises' never-ending love affair with Indiana University. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Ken.
–Nathan DuMond, Director, Sales at Athenahealth
Ken Gros Louis’ expansive vision of what a university should be was remarkable. He wasn’t shocked when asked to help preserve recordings of African drumming, or to support endangered language sounds for posterity. He understood why those things mattered, and he helped to make our dreams come true with funding to enable future research. His vision emboldened us all in our work.
–Ruth M. Stone, Laura Boulton Professor Emerita
In 1956, Ken Gros Louis and Herman B Wells first met at a national conference of the Sigma Nu fraternity. Gros Louis was an undergraduate delegate from Columbia University; Wells, IU president, was serving as national chairman of the fraternity. Eight years later, Gros Louis was at Indiana University, embarking on a lifetime of scholarship and service. Upon his appointment as Bloomington Chancellor and Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1980, he instituted an open telephone line to his office one day each week, fielding calls from students, faculty, staff, or citizens about university concerns and issues. Forty years before, President Wells instituted public office hours for the same purpose. Both men realized the value of open and accessible communication. In 1982, the old Tenth Street stadium was torn down. President John Ryan faced strong pressure from members of the board of trustees and some faculty to pave it over for parking. Ryan consulted with Gros Louis, and they agreed that the best long-term use would be to re-landscape the site as greenspace. Wordsmith Gros Louis suggested an apt phrase — "a stadium of green" — that found its way into Ryan's commencement speech, and the seed of the Cox Arboretum was planted. A few years later, Gros Louis came up with an idea for a scholarship program designed to attract the best high school students in Indiana and help staunch the college "brain drain" to other states. He convinced a self-effacing Chancellor Wells, then in his mid-eighties, to lend his name to the program. The Herman B Wells Scholars have been enlivening the Bloomington campus since 1990.
When Wells died in 2000, Gros Louis remembered his mentor, friend, and colleague: "He always said that the spirit of a place was its most important attribute, and he always worked tirelessly to enhance it at Indiana University. For me, the warmth of his being is his greatest legacy." The very same is true for Ken Gros Louis.
–James H. Capshew, University Historian and Professor, History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine
Early in my IU adventure, I was fortunate to sign up for a Shakespeare class he taught. What still registers in my mind is that he was the epitome of a professor — his personality, humor, demeanor, presence; I had many worthy and memorable professors but he was a class act.
–Diane Tapia Quinn, BA, English, 1967