By: JIM IRIZARRY
Lester Wolfson, the first chancellor of IU South Bend, passed away at the age of 93 on Feb. 10 at a care center in South Bend. He had been in declining health.
Wolfson served as chancellor from 1969 to 1987 and is the longest serving chancellor in the history of IUSB.
During his tenure, Wolfson oversaw the development of IUSB from a two-year college into a university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. Notable contributions included the construction of the Schurz Library, as well as expansions of the theatre and music departments.
Prior to Wolfson’s service as chancellor at IU South Bend, he was associate professor of English at Indiana University Gary (now IU Northwest) until 1964, when he was selected as director and assistant dean of IU South Bend. In 1969, he was named chancellor and retired in 1987.
“I had the privilege of speaking with him on the phone shortly after I arrived as chancellor,” Chancellor Terry Allison said in a press release. “I have a deep appreciation for his career and the service he provided IU South Bend during his 18 years as chancellor. He built the foundation of this great campus and his legacy lives on here.”
Indiana University President Michael McRobbie issued a statement following Wolfson’s death.
“Indiana University is deeply saddened by the passing of former Chancellor Wolfson, who was instrumental in the development of the IU South Bend campus into a thriving center for education and community engagement in north central Indiana,” McRobbie said in the statement. “Under his leadership, the campus experienced many firsts—including new degree programs and academic facilities—and his lifelong love of literature and music ensured that the arts would always be a central part of the campus’ tradition. Our thoughts go out to Chancellor Wolfson’s family, friends and loved ones, as we pay tribute to his many achievements and the lasting contributions he made to the South Bend community.”
Born Sept. 13, 1923, Wolfson was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., and received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in English from the University of Michigan. His teaching experience prior to IUSB included Wayne State University, University of Houston, University of California Santa Barbara, and Indiana University Gary.
He received an honorary degree in Humane Letters from Indiana University in 1988. The degree was presented to him by IU President Thomas Ehrlich at commencement ceremonies in South Bend.
During Wolfson’s tenure, enrollment at IU South Bend grew from approximately 2,000 students to 6,000. Today, the school has more than 7,500 students.
The life, career and impact of Wolfson on IU South Bend and the community can be found in the book “A Campus Becoming,” published by the Wolfson Press at IU South Bend.