Man responsible for university’s growth to retire

Paola Marizan

The most challenging task Stephen Helfrich endured during his 36 years at USI wasn’t a construction project, but a fire in the Science Center in 1998.

Electrical cables caught fire in the utility tunnel and smoke filled the building.

“The biggest challenge was to get the Science Center clean and back in operation,” Helfrich said.

The director of facility operations and planning will retire July 31.

“I started as an engineer,” Helfrich said. “In those days, USI was ISUE (Indiana State University Evansville).”

Helfrich, a graduate of Purdue University, was promoted to assistant director in 1978 when USI was smaller. From there, he has seen USI grow over the years.

When he arrived, campus consisted of the Wright Administration Building, the Science Center and parts of the Physical Plant and Rice Library.

One of his first responsibilities was overseeing the construction of the Physical Activities Center.

“To see each building being constructed and open is very satisfying,” Helfrich said.

He said he has been lucky to work at USI. He described his experience as “great” and USI as a “great place to work.”

“I’ve always enjoyed the job,” Helfrich said.

His predecessor, John, impacted his professional life.

“I respected him,” Helfrich said. “Each of my bosses here have had a positive impact as well.”

He said the staff he works with has also impacted his career in a positive way.

“I wouldn’t be able to retire without their help and what they do. We are a pretty close group,” he said.

Helfrich’s staff feels the same way about him.

Miles Mann, assistant director of facility operations, has worked with Helfrich for 25 years.

“I’ve had a lot of fun,” Mann said. “If he was not my boss for those 25 years, I would have left.”

He said Helfrich is a very funny man and jokes about some “silly” ideas he’s had in the past.

“Five years ago, we had a problem with bees around the dumpsters on campus,” Mann said. “And (Helfrich) read somewhere that if you slice cucumbers and put them around the dumpster enclosure, it would keep the bees away.”

Mann said this didn’t work. He said the next day there were more bees and they had to collect all of the cucumbers with bees everywhere.

“It was really funny,” Mann said.

He said Helfrich has set a great example, not only professionally, but for raising his kids, too.

“I saw him pour himself into his kids,” Mann said. “He gave them everything they needed to be successful.”

Mann said Helfrich has been a mentor, a friend and a boss. He said 85 percent of everything on campus has been built under Helfrich’s direction.

“He’ll be missed,” Mann said.

Gary Burgdorf, construction administrator, has worked with Helfrich for 10 years.

“It’s gone by very fast,” Burgdorf said. “We have built some of the nicest and most popular buildings on campus.”

Burgdorf said he and Helfrich are very proud of the projects they have completed.

“He’s been one of the most fair men I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” Burgdorf said.

Helfrich’s hobby is farming and he plans to focus on his cattle and his pigeons after retirement. He said he plans to travel with his wife and go see his daughters, too.

“I plan on enjoying that,” he said. “But I will miss the staff.”

Helfrich joked about working out at the Recreation, Fitness and Wellness Center, which he attends regularly and plans on attending after his retirement.

“You might see me around,” Helfrich said. “Maybe bugging the people here a little bit.”