VOICES: Former prof Dilg ready for new adventures

This story is part of Voices of our community, which is designed to tell you something new about your neighbors. Participants are chosen at random for the interviews, in which we strive to share a portion of their lives with you, the reader. Look for this series every Monday.

BIG RAPIDS — Bruce Dilg has never been one to shy away from big ideas or taking risks.

A NEW CHAPTER: Bruce Dilg retired from his position as a professor of architecture after 25 years at Ferris State. Dilg is responsible for resurrecting the annual Festival of the Arts in Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/ Martin Slagter)

Dilg, a now-retired architecture professor at Ferris State University and practicing architect out of Big Rapids, has work on display at Immanuel Lutheran Church and Caring Family Dentistry in Big Rapids, as well as various other buildings throughout Mecosta County. Perhaps his greatest achievement during his 25 years at FSU, however, was the blueprint that wouldn’t leave his head five years ago to resurrect the annual Festival of the Arts celebration, which will return for its fifth year in February.

Dilg spoke about bringing back the festival with Ferris president David Eisler, and eventually got the university and the city of Big Rapids on the same page to re-imagine the festival as a tool to build bridges between FSU and the downtown community.

Dilg has lived in Illinois and Wyoming, in addition to Big Rapids, and never thought he would have stayed in the city for 25 years after he was offered a professor position in 1986. The area has served both he and his family well, though, and the always forward-looking man sees himself staying here for a while.

While plenty has changed in Big Rapids over the years, two things have remained a constant for Dilg: His faith in God and the love he has for his wife and three children.

Although he’s unsure what retirement will bring, Dilg said he is looking forward to riding horses with his wife, Robin, as well as spending time with his grandchildren. The Pioneer took time to speak with Dilg about what comes next after retirement, as well as the impact the Festival of the Arts has had on the community.

Do you have any immediate plans, now that you’re officially retired?

DILG: I’m open to whatever God’s got in mind for me in this next phase of my life. This whole thing is a mixed bag decision. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done and there’s a lot more to do. It’s time to move on to that next chapter.

I’d like to stay involved in the community. We’ve got no plans to go anywhere. This has been an interesting place to be for the last 25 years.

What brought you to Big Rapids?

DILG: The economy. We pulled into town on New Year’s Eve, 1986. I saw an ad in a professional journal for Ferris State College and Big Rapids, Mich. — both places that I’d never heard of before. I’m picking up (information) from the Chamber of Commerce that said 65 percent of the days in Michigan are gray because of the lake effect. So I called my wife and said ‘I’m coming home, I’m not even going to this interview.’

What convinced you to not only come to Big Rapids, but stay here as long as you have?

DILG: God. We prayed about it, and said if we’re supposed to leave Wyoming – a placed that we really loved – I’d get offered the job. So I got offered the job.

The kids and my wife were talking about it, and they said, ‘well, you wanted an answer, and you got an answer.’ That’s what you prayed for. Now you’re telling (God) you don’t like the answer.

We started getting involved in the community, and found out it was a pretty nice place to live. I really enjoyed the students and the opportunity to work with young people. That’s one of the reasons we talked about getting into education and away from the architectural practice. It was a lot of fun. We went through a lot of presidents, a lot of deans — on the whole, it’s been a lot of fun.

How did resurrecting the Festival of the Arts come about?

DILG: I was working the football scoreboard and getting something to eat and mentioned to Dr. Eisler that we used to have something called the Festival of the Arts. He asked what it was and I explained it to him and he thought it was an interesting idea. Every time he’d see me, he’d give a gentle nudge and ask ‘Have you done anything about that Festival of the Arts?’

The thing that took it from that level to doing something about it was when I got put on the Artworks board about six years ago. We were at a retreat, with the purpose of the retreat being to talk about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the arts in Big Rapids. We spent about a half hour discussing these subjects. We all sat back down about two or three hours later. I made an observation that with all this brainpower that we have – that Ferris’ name didn’t appear once on any of the lists.

I left there amazed, thinking ‘how do you turn a problem into a project?’ The problem was the community arts people don’t recognize the Ferris arts people, and they don’t work together. So I thought, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Looking at it five years later, what is the greatest accomplishment of the Festival of the Arts?

DILG: The unversity and the community working together. That was a major goal that I had, and I still have. I’m still looking for new ways to continue to have people at the university see the type of talent that is in the community. We’ve got some pretty talented, artistic people here.

We’ve got folks wanting to come to Big Rapids now. We’ve gotten solicitations from artists across the country asking to be a part of it.

What are you going to miss the most about teaching?

DILG: The students. The chance to work with young people. One of the things about Ferris that people have kidded about is that if you can’t go anywhere else, you go to Ferris, because it’s an open enrollment school. We get a lot of students who come to Ferris who aren’t neccesarily prepared to go to college.

It’s been fascinating over the 25 years that I’ve been here to see the difference between a freshman and a sophomore; a sophomore and a junior; a junior and a senior. The growth they show and the questions that they ask. It’s wonderful to watch that kind of growth.

I was over in Novi a couple of weeks ago for a meeting with a bunch of contractors. A guy came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Dilg, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Brett Carr and I had you as a student 23 years ago. I really appreciate what you taught me.’

I don’t know how that can be replaced. I plan to stay involved in architecture and whatever else the good Lord has planned for me. But that ability to touch young people and have them remember it 20 years later – that I’ll miss a bunch.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

DILG: I still see myself physically in Big Rapids. We have 50 acres west of town with our horses that we can ride. I’d still like to be riding them 10 years from now. My grandkids will be off to college 10 years from now, so I see myself going to a lot of their activities. I see myself spending a lot of time with them.

You’re obviously very proud of your children. What is the best part about having kids?

DILG: Next week will be the 49th year in a row that all of our children come home for Christmas. They’re all grown up now and have their own lives halfway across the country — and they still come home for Christmas. It’s a very special time for us. They love each other, they support each other, they go on vacation with each other. Watching that kind of relationship … I thank God every day for how our kids feel about each other and us.

What is the worst part about having children?

DILG: The worst part is letting go.

I picked them up and moved them from Peoria, Ill., across the country to Wyoming. In 1986, I uprooted my daughter during her sophomore year in high school, where she was popular and moved her across the country to Big Rapids. Knowing: Did I make the right decision? In terms of their lives. That’s the hard part about having children.

I think it’s all part of a way of learning to live. I wish they lived closer now that I have grandchildren. They chose to live in big cities, and God bless them. There are a lot of times where there isn’t a right answer, though. You just have to let go and see how things work out.

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