Director of Recreation Dan Bulfin retires after 41 years at NU


Zoe Malin/The Daily Northwestern

Dan Bulfin is retiring from NU Recreation after 41 years working for the University. He greatly expanded the program during his time as the director of recreation.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Dan Bulfin’s office is tucked away on the first floor of the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. The area is quiet in contrast with the rest of the lively facility, and his office is surrounded by those of other faculty members. But Bulfin, Northwestern’s director of recreation, said he loves interacting with students and staff.

Because of this, he has made it his daily practice to walk around the floors of Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and talk to people. He said these daily interactions are what he will miss most when he retires Friday after 41 years at NU.

“I’ve always felt working here is like living in a small town,” Bulfin said. “You run into people and you get to know them. They’ve taught me about all of the crazy, wonderful things that go on here.”

Over the years, Bulfin has made his mark on the University’s Evanston campus. He expanded Northwestern Recreation services, increased the number of staff members who work for the program and oversaw building renovations.

However, when Bulfin began working for Northwestern, it was on its Chicago campus. He was hired in 1978 as an intramural and club sports director, tasked with managing a new recreation program for graduate students.

Bulfin remained in this position until 1980. Then he moved north to Evanston. Around the same time, NU’s Board of Trustees created a campaign to enhance recreation and athletic facilities on the Evanston campus. Bulfin said the campaign’s goal was to raise $23 million and use it to make “well-needed” improvements.

“To give you an idea, the facility that is now Welsh-Ryan Arena was originally called McGaw Hall and it had a dirt floor,” Bulfin said.

Bulfin was inspired by the campaign. He felt it was an opportunity for the University to establish a campus recreation division, so he submitted a proposal to create one. Previously, student recreation programs were housed within NU’s physical education doctoral program. Bulfin said it was phased out after he was hired.

Not only was Bulfin’s proposal accepted, but he was named the director of recreation, too.

Nancy Tierney, NU Recreation’s associate director of fitness and wellness, said Bulfin has made an “incredible impact” since his first day on the job. Tierney praised Bulfin’s “insightful leadership” as well as the way he “trusts his staff.”

“It’s hard to put into a few words the legacy he leaves behind,” said Tierney. “It will forever be remembered.”

Since the ’70s, Bulfin has seen a lot of changes occur within NU Recreation. Bulfin remembers what he called “the Jane Fonda fitness boom” that exploded across the country in the 1990s, causing a “radical shift in how people exercise.” This prompted NU Recreation to add more fitness machines to its facilities and classes like aerobics and yoga to its group fitness offerings.

Bulfin has also been a part of NU’s Athletics and Recreation Facilities Master Plan. The master plan has resulted in new structures on campus, like the Lakeside Field, the Walter Athletics Center and the Ryan Fieldhouse. Bulfin said he admires how such developments have given students who want to take advantage of NU Recreation programs as well as provided student-athletes with their own “state-of-the-art” spaces.

“Convenience is the name of the game with fitness,” Bulfin said. “The Facilities Master Plan has done a great job with identifying that need and creating environments to help people thrive.”

After retiring, Bulfin plans to spend time with his five children and six grandchildren, sail along the Michigan shore with his wife and deepen his interest in music. He said NU was “a great environment to establish a career” in and is excited for the next chapter of his life.

Bulfin has connected with countless people over his career, including Henrietta Berning. She is an Evanston resident, member of Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and former adult swimming instructor for NU Recreation. Berning met Bulfin 28 years ago and admires how he has run the program and its facilities.

“Dan is kind and generous,” Berning said. “He is special, and I thank him for all that he has done.”

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