After finding out that he’s retiring, Larry Bolles said students stop by his office almost every day with one pleading request: “Please don’t go. What are we going to do without you?”
“That tells you that you must have done something right,” said Bolles, the director of the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct. Bolles has worked at NIU for 34 years and his last day on campus is Monday.
Bolles said he loves his job and his students, but is retiring due to the uncertain future of the pension system in Illinois and because he’s ready for a change.
“It’s time for some new blood,” he said with a smile. “You with me?”
‘I only see them once’
Every year, Bolles meets with about 3,500 students that are referred to his office to be disciplinary sanctioned. These same students might come back for advice, but many don’t return to his office again for disciplinary problems.
“Most students are good people,” Bolles said. “That’s why I believe I only see them once.”
Even if Bolles doesn’t have any cases scheduled for a day, he still talks on the phone or meets with students every 30 minutes. Bolles said some students that are sanctioned come back to see him because they received a fair punishment and realize he cares about them.
Bolles said when students come to college for the first time, “it’s like breaking out of jail” for them, as they no longer have parents telling them what to do. But with this newfound freedom, Bolles tries to remind students why they came to college in the first place — to get an education.
“For those that go on to graduate, thousands come back and tell me I’m glad I ran into you,” Bolles said while laughing. “And I didn’t do nothing but just slow them down.”
Being a mentor, friend to students
After accepting the job at NIU and moving to DeKalb when he was 28, Bolles told his wife he would stay there for a maximum of five years. Almost 30 years later, Bolles has remained at NIU for one important reason — the students.
Lizzie Elie, senior composition and new computer music major, said despite how busy Bolles is, he always motivates her to be a good person and a better leader. Elie is a member of Delta Sigma Theta and various other student organizations.
“He’s always pushing me to do better and to be successful in life and to help someone get to the same level I am,” she said. “There aren’t too many high figures, males especially, that are really there for the students, care about them, and want them to do better in life.”
Chris Pitts, senior political science major and president of Kappa Alpha Psi, said he meets with Bolles three to four times a week to discuss family issues. Pitts said both of his parents are drug addicts.
“I don’t really have a mother or a father figure,” Pitts said. “He helps me with issues, growing and developing, and just being a man in general he gives me insight on.”
After his fraternity brother and friend Steven Agee II was shot and killed at an off-campus party on Nov. 23, Pitts realized even more what a good friend and mentor Bolles is to him.
Pitts said he isolated himself from everyone and told his family he wasn’t coming home for Thanksgiving. But on Thanksgiving, Bolles picked Pitts up and invited him to have dinner with his family.
“One of the things I realized is that he is one of the guys who has helped me out with personal issues, coping with death, with life in general, and questions about life,” Pitts said. “Knowing him has really been kind of a life changing experience for me.”
‘The most powerful thing happened’
One of the reasons Bolles believes he is able to connect with students is because he never forgot what it’s like to be a college student.
While he was a freshman at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Bolles was sent to the dean’s office for “sassing off” to the residence hall staff. The dean he met made a strong impression on Bolles. The dean listened to Bolles and was able to help him see the situation from another point of view.
“The most powerful thing happened in there,” Bolles said. “He said, ‘Young man. I better never see you in my office again.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘I’m going to hold you to that. You’re a man of your word right?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and left his office.”
‘The two of you make a connection’
Bolles said NIU is conducting a nationwide search, and about 70 people have applied for his job so far. Whoever takes his position has to have a sense of humor and truly like students, he said.
After retiring, Bolles plans to become a volunteer advocate for wards of the state at an organization called DeKalb County Court Appointed Special Advocates. He will continue to volunteer at the DeKalb County Community Foundation and will start volunteering more at his church.
“I’m also going to do a lot of traveling with my wife,” he said. “I’m not going to turn my retirement into a full-time job.”
But even with all of his retirement plans, Bolles still hasn’t forgotten about the students. He will be attending the graduation ceremony this year, just like he has done almost every year since he started working at NIU.
“The best thing in the world is when you can help a young person turn their life around and get back on the right path,” Bolles said. “And then you go to their graduation and they look at you, point and wave. And the two of you make a connection like, look where you are now. You came in my door, I almost threw you back out, and now you’re graduating. It’s those kinds of things and moments that I will miss the most.”