One of the most historic buildings on the Valparaiso University campus, Hilltop Gym is currently in the midst of a two-year, $600,000 project as the space is renovated and improved to serve as a quality practice facility for the Valpo basketball and volleyball programs. The $350,000 lead gift for the project came from the estate of Dale F. Kempf ’62, a longtime faculty member in engineering and physics, and in his honor, the court will be named Kempf Court at Hilltop Gym. The gift supports Forever Valpo: The Campaign for Our Future.
Kempf served Valparaiso University as a member of the engineering faculty from 1964 to 1969 before leaving to pursue an opportunity to work for Eastman Kodak Research Laboratories. Upon his retirement from Kodak as a senior research scientist in the early 1990s, Kempf brought his expertise back to Valpo’s faculty, serving for more than 20 years as an adjunct faculty member in engineering and physics. He was granted emeritus status upon his retirement in 2014 and was a fixture at Valpo Athletics events throughout his time as a faculty member and following his retirement as well.
“After his retirement from Kodak, Valparaiso University became a large part of Dale’s life,” said Kraig Olejniczak ’87, former dean of the College of Engineering. “He was incredibly loyal and supportive of his alma mater; he put his money where his heart was. He loved Valpo Athletics in general and basketball in particular. He enjoyed the food, drink and camaraderie of Crusader Club members at halftime of basketball games in Hilltop Gym, and he especially loved when an engineering student would be playing on the men’s basketball team. He also loved to watch engineering students at football practice and at games.”
Olejniczak and his wife, Beth ’87 ’07 MSN, serve as co-executors for Kempf’s estate, which was responsible for the lead gift for the project. Joe ’75 and Jeanne Gillen and Richard “Dick” ’59 and Carol ’60 Schroer provided additional significant gifts to make the project a reality, while Don Lewis ’72 and Lew Keller ’60 also supported the project.
“Hilltop Gym, or University Gym as it was originally referred to, has played an important role in the life of the University and many of our students and alumni,” said Mark LaBarbera, director of athletics. “We are excited to be celebrating the history and tradition of our Athletics and basketball programs by creating a modern practice and playing space in the building. Having a Division I quality air-conditioned practice facility for our basketball and volleyball programs is an important step forward as we enter our second year of Missouri Valley Conference competition. We are also excited to honor Dale Kempf’s long-time contribution to Valpo and our students by placing his name on the court. We appreciate the leadership of Kraig and Beth Olejniczak, Joe Gillen and Dick Schroer in making this project happen.”
The upgrades to Hilltop Gym include the installation of air conditioning, new lighting and a permanent wall between the gym and the softball hitting area, as well as treatments to the windows on the south side of the facility. A nutrition center will be added to the area for the use of all Valpo student-athletes, while the finished project will also feature graphics highlighting the history and tradition of Hilltop Gym as a campus venue, as well as the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball programs.
“As a program, we are looking forward to taking advantage of the upgrades to Hilltop Gym,” said Matt Lottich, men’s basketball head coach. “We aspire not only to be one of the top programs in the Missouri Valley Conference, but to be one of the nation’s premier mid-major programs. We are thankful that we have donors who share our vision for the program and have helped make these upgrades a reality — to create a practice facility that can help us achieve our goals.”
Kempf Court at Hilltop Gym will be officially dedicated as part of Homecoming 2018 festivities this September.
“When Beth and I, as co-executors of Dale’s estate, reflected on his love of basketball, halftimes in Hilltop Gym, football games and watching engineering students practice and participate in intercollegiate athletics, it just seemed right to honor and memorialize Dale in this way,” said Kraig Olejniczak. “I hope Dale gets a kick out of this project. I have a feeling he will be looking down on Valpo’s College of Engineering National Champion robotics football team as they continue their winning ways on their home field — Kempf Court at Hilltop Gym.”
The gift from Kempf’s estate supports Forever Valpo: The Campaign for Our Future, a $250 million endowment campaign focused on raising permanent support for student scholarships, faculty development and programs that prepare students for lives of leadership and service. Forever Valpo was officially launched on Sept. 23, 2016, and has raised more than $180 million.