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A Northwestern Legend Retires

Shep Shanley helped recruit 50 classes of Northwestern students and made an indelible impression on the University along the way.

shep shanley
Shep Shanley, a senior associate director of admission, will retire at the end of June. Image: Martin Wilson

By Sean Hargadon
June 19, 2020
Online Exclusives
30 Responses

Some call him a national treasure; others say he’s a rock star and a legend. Most call him Shep.

For nearly half a century, F. Shepperd Shanley has been introducing Northwestern to prospective students around the globe. And honestly, he says, in 49 years the job hasn’t changed much. It’s still all about making connections — and by all accounts, that’s what Shanley does best.

“Everybody is an instant friend,” says Chris Watson, Northwestern’s dean of undergraduate enrollment.

Shanley’s colleagues and friends describe him in glowing terms: thoughtful, loyal, charming and whip smart, animated, intellectually curious and always upbeat. “It’s almost infectious, this love of life that Shep has,” says Del Crandall ’84, a longtime friend who met Shanley in 1980.

Carol Lunkenheimer, the former dean for undergraduate admission who retired in 2007, appreciated his calming presence, especially on days when she had to deal with disappointed parents.

“He isn’t your typical ‘road runner,’ as we used to call ourselves in admissions,” says longtime friend Rebecca Dixon, the former associate provost for university enrollment. “He has a fount of knowledge and an elephantine memory. Shep was always viewed as an honest reflection of the University.”

“There just aren’t many like him anymore,” Watson adds, “and that’s a shame.”

“He has a fount of knowledge and an elephantine memory. Shep was always viewed as an honest reflection of the University.” — Rebecca Dixon

Shanley, a senior associate director of admission, will retire at the end of June. The son of former faculty members J. Lyndon and Barbara Smith Shanley ’37 MA/MS, Shanley started working in admission at Northwestern in January 1971, after earning degrees at Princeton and Harvard and teaching Advanced Placement U.S. history and European history at three East Coast boarding schools.

During his tenure at Northwestern, Shanley pioneered global recruiting trips. When he went on his first overseas trip for the University in 1980, there were 14 international students in the entering class. Last year’s incoming class included more than 225 international students, accounting for 11% of the class.

Dixon says Shanley, a Francophile, was the right man for the job. In the 1980s, “Northwestern was on the cusp of becoming a real phenomenon, competing with the Ivies and Stanford and Duke,” she says. “Having international students adds to your cache, but it also broadens the horizons of the non-international students at the University. Shep was the perfect person to go, particularly to European schools and eventually Asian schools. He’s dignified, knowledgeable, kind of a man of the world, and I think that came across internationally.”

For 15 years Shanley directed the Alumni Admission Council, connecting Northwestern alumni with prospective students. Membership in the AAC grew under his watch, as did the number of interviews that alumni conducted with prospective students.

“I was able to provide a way for alumni to use their enthusiasm for Northwestern,” Shanley says. “This was a help to what we do, a help to the students who had an opportunity to contact someone locally, and a help to the AAC members who felt they were engaged in doing something that was all good.”

Since 1976 Shanley has served as a faculty fellow at Willard Residential College, “a place where I’ve made some friends forever,” he says. He sometimes invited his father, then a professor emeritus of English — and namesake of Shanley Hall — to do humorous poetry readings.

Shanley's involvement at Willard, including six years as master, “was a way to connect with a group of undergraduates early on,” Shanley explains. “I could be with them as their experience grew and talk to them about it — not be an adviser or a counselor, but just kind of a friend. It meant a lot to me to be part of student life after admissions had done its work, and to know people who were here.” 

Crandall, “a committed Willardite,” met Shanley as a first-year student. Shanley spent a lot of time with students at Willard lunches, dinners and faculty-student social events. One thing in particular impressed Crandall: Shanley listens.

“Shep was not judgmental, and you could share something about yourself or your plans and know that you had a good sounding board,” recalls Crandall. “He really wanted to learn what we were interested in and what we wanted to do with our lives and how he could help us with some of that.”

Crandall met his wife, Barbara Puckett Crandall ’84, at Northwestern, and they sent their three sons — William ’14, Andrew ’16 and Edward, a rising senior — to the University. When each of their sons were considering schools, they’d go visit Northwestern for a tour and a meeting with Shanley.

“He always wanted to talk directly with my sons,” says Crandall, the deputy judge advocate general for the U.S. Navy. “It was about their choice of a university and what was going to be best for their futures.”

When Edward was wait-listed at Northwestern, it was Shanley who called him to deliver the news that he’d finally been accepted. “That was really appropriate,” Crandall says, “because that’s what it’s about — the student working with the staff and learning to become an adult and to guide his own life.”

Shanley says the connections that he’s made with students, alumni and school counselors around the world have meant the most to him. And don’t expect the anything-but-retiring Shanley to disappear from Northwestern. He plans to stay involved in the life of the University and hopes to sing in a chorus.

“This has been a wonderful experience, a great run,” he says. “The wind has been at Northwestern’s back. It’s been a very good place to be because it was always moving forward. That’s hard to beat.”

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Reader Responses

  • Dear Editor,

    As duly noted in the title of Northwestern Magazine’s article “A Legend Retires,” Shep Shanley is indeed a legend who has made an enormous impact on the minds and lives of thousands of Northwestern students. To congratulate Shep and recognize his extraordinary 50 years at Northwestern, 70 Northwestern and Willard Residential College alumni worked in secret to organize a surprise tribute in the form of video messages, photographs and written messages that express what their time at Willard and Northwestern means to them. This inspired 36 video testimonials (featuring individuals and groups), hundreds of photographs and a huge volume of messages, all filled with joyous reflection and an outpouring of respect, gratitude and appreciation.

    The alumni testimonials are highly consistent on many points: Shep knew us from our applications and interviews, before we ever moved on campus. He greeted us when we arrived and welcomed us as adults, free to declare ourselves on our own terms. At Willard he maintained a custom of inviting groups of newly arrived freshman to his home for Sunday brunch, an experience many alumni recall vividly to this day. Shep would often join us for lunch in the Willard cafeteria and regularly led the French-speaking table. He was the undisputed guest of honor and guiding presence at all our events and parties — entirely with, but not of, the flock.

    At Willard, Shep created and curated a culture of respect, consideration and curiosity. Supporting an agenda that centered around a joyous embrace of life, he led by example with graciousness, warmth and wisdom. Through Willard, he provided a context that informed us of who we had become as adults and showed a wonderful example of what adulthood could be. And to a very large number of us, Shep has become a lifelong friend.

    There will come a time — soon, we all hope — when students will again be allowed to fully join one another in the thriving river that is university life. Campuses, classrooms, dormitories and cafeterias will be filled again; social events, again planned and enjoyed. Those tasked with relighting the fires in the temples of society and leading the social reopening would do well to consider Shep’s contributions to Northwestern and Willard Residential College, and the remarkable community that stands united as his legacy.


    Alex Albanese ’85
    Tyler Allen ’90
    Jim Andrews ’86, MS ’87
    Cheryl Klocek Andristplourde ’91 MA
    Carol Ashley ’90
    Anne Baughman ’87
    Ann-Maria Beard ’90
    Scott Beveridge ’90, ’10 MBA
    Charles Bock ’90, ’93 MD
    Bill Bonk ’86
    Mike Borsetti ’88
    Chris Brogan ’90, ’06 MBA
    Carl Brownell ’86
    Andy Butt ’90
    Himanee Gupta-Carlson ’85
    Matt Carmichael ’96
    Dave Carmody ’90
    Eurydice Chrones ’85
    Catherine Willis Cleveland ’90
    Michelle Kern Coussens ’85
    Randy Coussens ’86
    Phyllis Alia Crotty ’90
    Dennis Curley ’90
    Kathy Dedo ’90
    Jason DeSanto ’90
    Robert DeWitt ’90
    Mark Didomenico ’90
    Erin Dugan ’91
    Ruth Ebenstein ’90
    Jenny Engle Fanning ’89
    J. Carl Ganter ’87, ’91 MS
    Vince Gerasole ’84
    Chris Guthrie ’90
    Jonathan Haber ’90
    Steve Halprin ’85
    Cathy Bull Hasler ’90
    Marti Rothlisberger-Hunyor ’90
    Kathy Ingraham Jacobson ’90
    Alice Keim ’92
    Stacey Lauren ’87
    Mark Ledogar ’89
    Sharyn Korobow Lewis ’90
    Todd Lindo ’88
    Jack Ludden ’91
    Sarah Norris Lundquist ’91
    Jimmy Martucci ’90
    Wendy Hess Mathiowetz ’91
    Brian McLaughlin ’88
    Neil McManus ’89
    Tim O’Donnell ’85
    Stephen Plank ’90
    Daisy Pommer ’91
    Carrie Radovich ’87
    Diego Ribadeneira ’86
    Julie Sandor ’90, ’01 PhD
    Ken Schaefle ’90
    Amy Hess Shrout ’89
    Lon Simmons ’89
    Michael P. Spencer ’90, ’03 MBA
    Susan Stearns '89
    Tom Sternal ’91
    Holly Wagoner Tasker ’90
    Carol Morita-Torcivia ’86
    Edgar Treiguts ’90
    Megan Marsh Thomas ’90
    Joe Vitaterna ’85
    Martha Hotz Vitaterna ’92 PhD
    Katherine Lynn Walker ’90
    Scott Weaver ’90
    Catherine Willis ’90
    Larry Wood ’87
    H. James Yoon ’90

    Kenneth J. Schaefle ’90 New York City, via Northwestern Magazine

  • I must be Shep's mistake.

    Or maybe he was on vacation the day my application was reviewed. Whatever, Northwestern admitted me. And it has been a privilege to know Shep and a singular pleasure to have enjoyed his wonderful personality over the subsequent decades. An added bonus, I also got to know his delightful father, Lyn. The apple, as my mother often said, doesn't fall far from the tree. And Shep and his father have been and had been metaphorical trees on the Northwestern campus for generations: welcoming, graceful, and stately.

    Holy God, I'll bet I wrote something really awful and totally sappy like that on my application essay! And they still let me in! Like I said, I must be Shep's mistake. I'm happy that he made one.

    Kevin Leonard, University Archivist ’77 Evanston, via Northwestern Magazine

  • The Grava family would like to add our warm wishes to Shep as he begins his retirement.

    I would also like to add my thanks, love and respect to a wonderful, insightful, loving and intelligent man. My relationship with Shep started in 1979 when I applied to NU. It continued during my four years at NU, including a summer working in admissions and a junior year living in Willard (with a 14-year-old roommate) when Shep was the faculty adviser.

    My wife, Joan Kraft Grava '82, and I had a nice opportunity to remain close to Shep while our oldest son, Nick Grava '11, was a student at Northwestern.

    Northwestern is certainly very lucky — and truly all of us are very lucky — to have had Shep Shanley in our lives, and I look forward to many more years of friendship with Shep.

    Thanks for accepting me in 1980, Shep, for being such a consistent source of inspiration, and especially for more than 40 years of friendship. You have had a material positive impact on so many lives, but especially mine.

    Derrick Grava '84 ’84 Kiawah Island, S.C., via Northwestern Magazine

  • I didn't see any tributes to Shep that came from schools overseas. For 28 years I worked at a small boarding school in Switzerland that really had no exposure to American colleges and universities. To remedy this situation, I began to attend international school conferences, which is where I met Shep. He came to visit Institut Montana almost every year thereafter, talking to perspective international and American students, and a union was forged between Northwestern and our school.
    All the students were impressed by his visits, but especially by Shep, whose warm, friendly personality and astute comments about colleges in the United States, were a tremendous help to them (and to me). I also took my students to visit colleges and universities in the United States, and Shep's friendly welcome and assistance not only made them feel at ease but also more knowledgeable. His presence at so many international school conferences was appreciated by many overseas counselors.
    Now that he has retired, I feel very sorry for the Northwestern admissions office; it will be practically impossible to find a replacement for the job he did so well.

    Peter H. Oehrlein Bronx, N.Y.

  • Shep, congratulations on an impactful career! Like many, I still remember you calling me directly to inform me of my admission. Personal touches like that helped drive my continuing enthusiasm for NU. Without Shep, I doubt I’d be a two-time NU alum. Thank you!

    Michael McNerney ’99 New York City, via Northwestern Magazine

  • I have such fond memories of Shep during my time at Northwestern. I spent two years at Willard Hall, spending many hours drinking coffee with Shep and other faculty in the subterranean dining hall. I bonded with Shep, and he graciously attended my piano recitals and after-parties.

    Thirty-three years after graduation I wrote him regarding my daughter's possible application, not knowing if he would remember me. He called me up, and it was as if no time had passed.

    Shep is a true gentleman and a University gem.

    Wendy Prober-Cohen ’85 Tarzana, Calf., via Northwestern Magazine

  • Wow! What a fitting tribute to an amazing person. Shep had an impact on the lives of students as they entered NU, and all of the tour guides in the 50 years since. My time at Northwestern as a student, and now as an alumna, has been shaped by Shep! Congratulations, and thank you!

    Zoe Goodman Brooklyn, NY

  • As an Alumni Admission Council member for more than 25 years and a director for most of that time, I know the AAC would not have been the same without Shep. No one could captivate prospective students like Shep!

    I have so many fond memories of our time together, whether it was watching Shep wow students at a Kansas City information session or being warmly welcomed by him at AAC leadership conferences on campus. Shep even came to my class reunion party one year when I was going through a difficult time and told me how much I meant to the AAC. Shep was and will always be family to all of his AAC directors.

    It brings tears to my eyes to think that Shep is retiring. I know I am a better person having had him as a mentor. I wish you a wonderful retirement and thank you for making Northwestern such a warm and special place.

    Michelle Frankenstein Hoffman ’83 Leawood, Kan., via Northwestern Magazine

  • Shep, congratulations on an esteemed career which has had an unmatched impact on Northwestern admissions. You are one of a kind, and I look forward to many more years of love and friendship!

    Kate Kligora Winnetka, Ill., via Northwestern Magazine

  • Shep, this has been a wonderful relationship since the very early days of the Alumni Admission Council. We have been with you since the beginning, and what a job you did! Over the last 40 years you spearheaded and created the AAC model that is still valid today — a connection with potential students and, at the same time, allowing alums to find a way to give back to the Northwestern that we love. You leave NU with your legacy of wisdom, fulfillment and humor. It has been an honor to work with you and to be able to call you, “friend.” Congratulations!

    Jerry Jablonski '59 and Jo Jablonski '61 Coral Springs, Fla., via Northwestern Magazine

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