Exec­utive Director of Infor­mation Tech­nology Ser­vices David Zens retired from his position at Hillsdale College Tuesday after 24 years of service.
David Zenz | Courtesy

After bringing the Internet to the city of Hillsdale and serving Hillsdale College’s tech­nology department for 24 years, Exec­utive Director of Infor­mation Tech­nology Ser­vices David Zenz retired this week. Friends and faculty gathered to cel­e­brate his retirement Tuesday.
Zenz first joined the college as the director of aca­demic com­puting, during which he ran an Apple com­puter store, kept the college’s two com­puter labs up and running, and oversaw the program.
“The faculty were pio­neers,” Zenz said. “They had a vision for some­thing they wanted but no pro­vision for it. So when they hired me, they laid out a set of things they wanted to have accom­plished, so I basi­cally worked through that list.”
His first day on the job, he attended a con­ference hosted by Merit Network at the Uni­versity of Nevada, making the con­nection that would ulti­mately result in Hillsdale’s Internet con­nec­tivity. Zenz was able to con­vince Merit Network to place a point of presence at the college and at the The Rockwell Lake Lodge in Luther, Michigan.
“That has been one of my great, fun projects,” Zenz said. “That was a col­lab­o­ration. That was not me. We figured out how to get this small college a great con­nection on the digital frontier. It’s been just amazing to be a part of this.”
Later on, Zenz’s position on Merit Network’s board allowed Hillsdale to make an addi­tional con­nection to an Internet service provider in Ohio. Pat Char­trand, network systems manager for ITS, said the con­nection to Merit has been an incredible asset for the college and the sur­rounding area, including the cities of Hillsdale and Cold­water.
“We’re con­nected to the two largest Internet service providers in the states of Ohio and Michigan,” he said. “It’s crazy — and that was all Dave. He also helped spearhead the fiber loop that goes around the entire city of Hillsdale. It’s through that loop that other places in Hillsdale are able to get con­nected.”
Over the course of two decades, Zenz worked on expanding Hillsdale’s net­working capa­bil­ities, con­necting the school’s email server to the Internet and arranging for fiber cables to run to the Roche Sports Complex. In the spring of 2000, the aca­demic and admin­is­trative com­puting depart­ments merged to form infor­mation tech­nology ser­vices, for which Zenz became the new director.
Prior to the merge, Zenz relied on stu­dents and recent grad­uates to help him maintain the com­puters. Zenz said he enjoyed the friend­ships he formed with the bright student workers.
“Those were fun days because they had ideas to try, and I would say, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of trust between the stu­dents and me and a lot of explo­ration of ideas.”
In addition to the serious work Zenz did for Hillsdale, his col­leagues said he creates a fun work envi­ronment. Bobbie Brown, aide to the exec­utive director of ITS, said Zenz occa­sionally brings in doughnuts from Hinkley Bakery in Jackson, Michigan, and par­tic­i­pates in the Nerf gun fights that take place once in a while.
“Several people in the department have Nerf guns, and every once in awhile, if it’s nice and quiet on a Friday afternoon the nerf guns will come out,” she said. “The Nerf fights are always fun.”
Outside the office, Zenz is an avid out­doorsman. He par­tic­i­pates often in yearly kayak trips with other members of the ITS department.
“We would go kayak down the Au Sable, and Dave would go, and we’d take a bunch of people from the office — student techs and whoever wanted to come,” Char­trand said. “Dave would always go, and we’d dunk him, tip him over, and it’s been great fun.”
Zenz said he’s looking forward to fly-fishing and back­packing during retirement and may travel with his wife or do some mission work.
“I want to take life at a dif­ferent pace,” he said. “I want to get some dirt under my fingers, read the news­papers more fully. There are books on my office book­shelf. Some are text­books. I always said when I get some time, I’m going to read them.”
Although Zenz is moving on, he said he will cherish the friend­ships he has made over his 24 years at Hillsdale.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to set all this aside, but there’s oppor­tu­nities for me out there.”