Celebrating the legacy of Student Life’s Bob Stoll: “Bob can be followed, but he can’t be replaced”


Courtesy / GVSU

Trevor Hubert and Nick Moran

For some students, it is hard to imagine Grand Valley State University’s campus in its original state: a few small lecture halls and dorms housing a couple thousand students, a handful of student organizations and a library a fraction of the size of the one that stands today.

For many on campus, it is truly strange to go into Bob Stoll’s Kirkhof Center office and not find him at work with a student or overseeing the campus lawn buzzing with life right outside his window. Nearly every day of his 37-and-a-half-year career at GVSU, Bob would be sure to snap a photo of the daily activities going on next to his office.

During his tenure at GVSU, Bob has worked for four different presidents, seen the university expand its reach from Allendale to Grand Rapids and Detroit, watched the school grow to over 25,000 students with over 400 student organizations and helped thousands of students walk across the graduation stage.

He officially served as the Associate Dean of Student Life, but he was so involved with his staff and students that he was simply the go-to guy for anyone that needed anything.

An avid outdoorsman, Bob got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Michigan University with the intention of becoming a conservation officer. He instead found his passion in working with people during his three years as a hall director at NMU. Not long after, he moved on to GVSU, where he worked to build the student community into what it is today.

Stoll remembers the moment where he knew he wanted to be a Laker for a life.

“I think I was at GVSU for about ten years, and President Lubbers stopped by the office one day and I told him ‘You know, at one time I wanted to go into politics and make a difference, but I think I’ve found that I can make more of a difference by turning out hundreds of thousands of young minds to go make a difference in the world,” Stoll said.

Throughout his time at GVSU, Stoll pushed hard for things that students now might take for granted. He was instrumental in making athletic events free to attend for students, bringing the commencement ceremonies to Van Andel Arena and getting concerts and comedians booked on GVSU’s campus. He also worked closely with GVSU’s student senate.

“As an advisor, we can’t thank him enough”, said Student Senate President Eric-John Szczepaniak. “All the times where there was troubling stuff or hot-button stuff, Bob would always offer to join just to listen, just to hear folks out and offer his thoughts, and he always tried to empower us as student leaders”. 

Stoll’s staff in the office of student life has built its own community that mirrors his vision: caring, compassionate people with a passion for education who treat each other like family.

“I can think back to when I was a graduate assistant and seeing through his modeling of leadership how compassionate he is towards his students and towards his staff, and how every action that he takes he puts students and others at the heart of what we’re doing”, said Director of Student Life Valerie Guzman. “He was the master of ceremonies for my wedding, so the sentiment that I have is that we are family, work family — he’s just a really special person in all of our lives outside of just our role at Grand Valley”.

Everyone on his staff has also seen the personal impact he has made on the lives of individual students.

“I’ve had so many people contact me telling me because of Bob, they are in this career or they got this position”, said LeaAnn Tibbe, Associate Director of Student Life. “This summer we did a Student Life reunion of students who had worked for us in the nineties, and over and over again they all said ‘if it weren’t for Bob, I wouldn’t be in this career’…his students were an extended part of his family”.

Stoll would frequently go above and beyond for students, especially those who were struggling.

“[Bob’s] idea was always to look at why this student was in this position and what can we do to help them?” Tibbe said. “Can we help make it better so that they can stay and they can succeed?”

Even as GVSU moved forward into the most unprecedented school year in its 6 decade history, Bob was thinking ahead to make sure the student life department would run like a well-oiled machine.

“In the summer [he] actually made a list of important tasks and events and things that need attention, and then had already talked with his staff about reassigning those,” said Dean of Students Loren Rullman. “He thought beyond his retirement date and into what was going to be needed in the fall.”

Even in everything that he has accomplished in nearly four decades of work at GVSU, Stoll credits his staff for making it all possible.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of a great team of staff, not only within the student life department…but across the university,” Stoll said. “People that give and care and embrace the student experience is really what puts students first. It’s been great to help lead that in my role, but I’ve gotten a bigger return from all those students that have gone on that still stay in touch.”