Puppeteer gives his final bow

Larry Blake to retire after 11 years of service

Imagine campus without the BB&T Arena, Griffin Hall and the Student Union. There was no soccer field, Loch Norse was a small pond and the plaza area didn’t even exist.


This was what campus looked like when Larry Blake assumed the position of assistant vice president of facilities management in 2004.


After holding that position for more than ten years, Blake will retire at the end of November.


Blake’s knack for construction began when he was a junior in college at West Virginia University. At the time, he was working for a construction company throughout the warmer months.


Blake elected not to return to school the following fall, and instead he planned to do construction work through the semester.


But these plans were interrupted when Blake received a letter from the United States Army. Because he was not enrolled in school, he was eligible to be drafted.


“I had a physical, we got finished and we were all standing there in our boxer shorts,” Blake said. “This guy said, ‘OK, I want you to count off one, two, three,’ and I was a three, and then he said, ‘All of the threes take one step to the left.’ So we did and this guy steps up and said, ‘Welcome to the United States Marine Corps.’”


But because he had seen an Air Force recruiter prior to his physical, Blake was able to join the Air Force instead.


Blake was able to get his degree in Civil Engineering so that he could enter the US Air Force as a Civil Engineering Officer. For each year he was enrolled in school, he had to work as an officer for two years in the Air Force.


“That put me at seven years that I would’ve had to stay [in the Air Force],” Blake said. “Well, 20 years is retirement, and by the time I got to the sixth year I realized that I kind of liked it.”


He was married by then, and he and his wife enjoyed the family atmosphere that existed within the military base.


Blake spent 23 years in the Air Force, traveling with his wife and two sons from England to Germany to Japan.


He retired from the military in 1991, and accepted a job as the Director of Facilities Management at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.


He helped to implement a food service project at Sinclair, a project that would later help him in his position at NKU.


After working at Sinclair for ten years, he and his wife decided to move somewhere with a warmer climate, so he applied for a position in North Carolina.


In 2001, he became the Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities at the University of North Carolina Fayetteville.


Blake’s time at the University of North Carolina was short. He wanted to return home once his first grandson was born, so when a position in facilities management opened at NKU, he jumped at the chance.


He was hired as the Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management in March 2004.


Steve Meier, associate to the dean of students, was on the search committee when Blake was hired.


“I’ve seen how the campus has been transformed under his leadership,” Meier said.


Meier said that Blake’s experience in facilities management at other universities made him a valuable candidate for the position.


“I think if you have prior experience working on a college campus, you have an understanding that we’re here for the students,” Meier said. “He realizes that, and I think a lot of his decision making has been geared towards the students.”


Meier said that he was hired on at a pivotal time in campus development.  


“This campus was growing at the time,” Blake said. “They had a lot of things going on that I was interested in. The arena was on the plate, the Student Union was most exciting to me.”


Blake said that construction of the Student Union allowed him to apply what he had already accomplished with his food service project at Sinclair Community College.


Since he has been at NKU, Blake said an important part of his job has been maintaining campus in a way that is not noticeable.


“The preference is that the facilities department stays somewhat in the background,” Blake said. “We’re kind of like the puppeteer. We pull the strings, we make sure the lights come on, make sure the heat and the air conditioning are working, the water is running and that there aren’t, heaven forbid, any sewage backups anywhere. We’re doing all the things that you shouldn’t have to notice.”


In addition to maintaining campus, Blake has implemented a program dedicated to energy conservation, which has saved the university approximately $650,000 annually in utility costs.


Out of everything that his job entails, Blake said that constructing and renovating the buildings on campus is the part of his job that he enjoys most.


Several major projects have been completed during Blake’s tenure including the Kenton Drive Garage, the Welcome Center Garage, the Student Union and Griffin Hall.


He said his favorite projects were the expansion and renovation of the Campus Recreation Center and the construction of the Student Union.


“I think the promises that I made to people, I kept,” Blake said. “The Rec Center being one of them. There were some students who were adamant about the things that need to be in there, and they’re in there, every single one of them.”  


Out of all the construction and renovations that Blake has facilitated, he said that he cannot pick just one as his biggest accomplishments.


Instead, Blake said the best thing he did at NKU was listen to the students.  


“The one thing, I guess, if nothing else that I accomplished, it was always being willing to listen to what the students had to say, and what they wanted; what concerned them, what they felt was missing from the campus, and I tried to meet those needs,” Blake said. “I thought it was very important that the students had a role in what the campus was.”


Blake attributes his success in listening to the students to those who work with him in Facilities Management.


Mary Paula Schuh, director of campus planning, has worked with Blake since he started at NKU.


“He has had a vision for facilities,” Schuh said. “He brought a level of professionalism to the department. He has mentored all of us, and he has encouraged everyone to become involved in development opportunities.”


Schuh said that she is happy to see Blake achieve his retirement, but at the same time she will miss his leadership on campus.


“He has made a really significant contribution,” Schuh said. “He has built a facilities management team, and has hired some really great individuals to help us achieve our goals.”


Blake said that in his years of experience prior to coming to NKU, he has seen many university employees act relieved when they were finished talking to students.


He said that those who work within his department do not have the same mentality.


“That’s not the way they feel when they come back from meetings,” Blake said. “Actually, they feel like they’re energized by what the students had to say, and I think that’s important.”


Andy Meeks, director of business operations and auxiliary services, is currently conducting a nationwide search to fill Blake’s position.


According to Amanda Nageleisen, director of public relations, candidates are being reviewed and the process is about two-thirds of the way complete.  


Blake’s last day on campus was Oct. 30. He will officially retire from NKU at the end of the month.