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New fieldhouse stuns as Northwestern community gets first look

University honors benefactors Ryan, Wilson and Slotnick families at building dedication
The Ryan, Wilson and Slotnick families look on as signage is unveiled.

More than 700 members of the Northwestern University community were among the first to experience the University’s newest lakeside athletic facilities at a special on-field celebration April 5.

Student-athletes, coaches, administrators and supporters honored key athletics and recreation benefactors whose generosity made Ryan Fieldhouse and Wilson Field a reality.

President Morton Schapiro thanked Patrick G. ’59, ’09 H and Shirley W. Ryan ’61 (’97, ’00 P); Stephen R. ’70, ’74 MBA and Susan K. Wilson ’70 (’08 P); Mitchell L. ’63, ’64 MBA, ’68 Ph.D. and Valerie M. Slotnick (’93 P); and their families for their “transformative, visionary philanthropy.”

“It’s transformative for the football program and those incredible student-athletes. It’s also transformative for many of our other 506 varsity athletes, 1,500 club sports athletes, 4,000 intramural athletes and the entire community,” Schapiro said.

“You have built something that not only transforms the footprint of Athletics and Recreation; it transforms the footprint of Northwestern University. I don’t know what could be better than this. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

Named for University Trustee Patrick Ryan and his wife, Shirley, long-standing Northwestern benefactors, Ryan Fieldhouse will serve as one of the most versatile indoor practice, competition and recreation venues in the nation.

At a massive 96,135 square feet, and designed for a maximum assembly occupancy of 6,000 people, Ryan Fieldhouse is larger than Northwestern’s existing Trienens Hall, John C. Nicolet Football Center and Byron S. Coon Sports Center combined.

Ryan Fieldhouse’s distinctive dome shape is based on football punting and kicking trajectories, with the peak of the dome reaching 87 feet above the turf field. Maximizing its location on the shores of Lake Michigan, the facility features a 44-foot-tall glass façade providing clear views to the north and east. The fieldhouse is flanked by sports performance spaces for football and Olympic sports.

“Ryan Fieldhouse will be an elite developmental center for our varsity programs; a first-class home for intramural, club and recreation activities; and an unparalleled space for large gatherings of our University community,” said Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Jim Phillips. “This facility reflects Northwestern’s unwavering commitment to excellence in all areas.”

Pat Ryan echoed this sentiment, saying, “We strive for excellence in everything that we do. When we have the quality of student-athletes that we have, they deserve to be in a state-of-the-art facility. We have now given our student-athletes what they deserve, and we’re proud to have our name on it.”

“Everything that’s really been good in our lives started at Northwestern,” he said, referring to the fact that he and Shirley met there as students as well as how the Northwestern alumni network helped shape his career.

Shirley Ryan said she and her husband support athletics because it serves as a “common language” and “cornerstone” of America. “It’s about lifting us up as a group through the development of the finest features of our body and soul, and everyone has access.”

Housing Wilson Field — named for Trustee Steve Wilson and his wife, Sue — Ryan Fieldhouse will host football, soccer, lacrosse and other varsity sport practices; club and intramural activities; and special events such as Dance Marathon, the President’s Convocation and the School of Communication’s recent “Starry Night” alumni show.

Wilson Field is striped for NCAA regulation football, soccer and lacrosse, with movable bleacher seating for up to 900 spectators and an automated netting system designed to subdivide the space for use by multiple groups simultaneously.

Remarking on the irony of seeing his family name in artificial turf after a lengthy career in the fertilizer industry, Steve Wilson shared his family’s many connections to Northwestern and the alumni community — including a thank-you note he and his wife received from fellow benefactor Pat Ryan, then national chairman for the Athletics Facilities Campaign, after making a gift to Northwestern nearly 35 years ago.

Speaking to the student-athletes, Wilson said, “This is a magnificent building, which will house state-of-the-art equipment, but that equipment and the building are only tools. They’re here to provide you with the opportunity to work even harder to achieve your personal dreams. So as proud as we are to be a part of providing this magnificent building, we are even prouder to support our students as individual scholars and as athletes.”

Ryan Fieldhouse visitors enter the building and ascend the wide-open staircase or an elevator to the Mitchell and Valerie Slotnick Family Atrium, which honors alumnus Mitchell Slotnick, his wife, Valerie, and their family. Bridging the entryway to Wilson Field, with sweeping views of Lake Michigan, the Slotnick Family Atrium will serve as an ideal reception space.

“The network of supportive NU alumni is unique and special, and we are blessed to be part of what you all have built,” Northwestern women’s soccer player Jenny Haskel ’19 said to the benefactor families. “I know I speak on behalf of all of the athletes in saying how grateful we are, how proud we are to be part of the NU family and how you have inspired us. This building is a symbol of possibilities, and I know it will take Northwestern Athletics to new heights.”

“At Northwestern we recruit the best and brightest student-athletes in the nation, inspire them to reach higher than they ever thought possible and equip them to turn that ambition into truth,” said Pat Fitzgerald ’97, Dan and Susan Jones Family Head Football Coach. “Ryan Fieldhouse is now the finest indoor practice and competition space in the country, and a facility that mirrors the pursuit of greatness we expect of our young men and women across this campus.”

“Ryan Fieldhouse is a transformational facility that will play an instrumental role in our program continuing to compete at the highest level,” said Kelly Amonte Hiller, Combe Family Head Lacrosse Coach. “We have created an expectation within our program of winning national championships, and this state-of-the-art facility will give us the ability to compete indoors as we strive for that goal.”

Ryan Fieldhouse and Wilson Field are the latest in a series of athletics and recreation facilities to be dedicated during We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium and Chap and Ethel Hutcheson Field were dedicated in August 2016. The renovated Rocky and Berenice Miller Park was dedicated in April 2016.

Two other significant athletics and recreation projects remain underway.

  • Slated for completion this summer, the Walter Athletics Center, adjacent to Ryan Fieldhouse, will offer convenience to student-athletes seeking wellness and support services such as academic advising, strength and conditioning space, a sports medicine and athletic training center, locker rooms, and nutrition and dining facilities.
  • The renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena, serving Northwestern’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams, will open in November. The project also includes the Trienens Performance Center, a first-class practice facility that will enable basketball, volleyball and other Wildcats student-athletes to develop their skills year-round.

According to Pat Ryan, “It’s been a journey, but we are not at the destination.”

Support for athletics and recreation is part of the University-wide fundraising campaign, We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. Funds raised are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on the Campaign is available at

About the benefactors

Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan

In grateful recognition of their unparalleled leadership, Northwestern honors Patrick G. ’59, ’09 H and Shirley W. Ryan ’61 (’97, ’00 P) with the naming of Ryan Fieldhouse, one of the most versatile indoor practice, competition and recreation venues in the nation. The Ryans’ exceptional philanthropy has provided support for excellence in athletics, visionary research in nanotechnology, world-class facilities, undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and the creation of endowed professorships across the University — demonstrating their profound bond with their alma mater.

Patrick G. Ryan, founder, chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Group, is a widely respected entrepreneur and insurance leader. He founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation and is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame. In 2008, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society, reflecting his many contributions to higher education. Mr. Ryan was chairman of the Northwestern Board of Trustees for 14 years, and in 2009, Northwestern awarded Mr. Ryan an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

Shirley Welsh Ryan is a national impact leader for children’s early detection and intervention of movement, sensory and communication development and has been appointed by two U.S. presidents to the National Council on Disability. In 1985, Mrs. Ryan co-founded with Mr. Ryan, which has merged into the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, ranked the number one U.S. rehabilitation hospital for 27 straight years. A civic and cultural leader, Mrs. Ryan serves as a trustee of University of Notre Dame, which awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in jurisprudence. Mrs. Ryan founded in 1976 Northwestern’s graduate-level Learning for Life lecture series.

In 2013, both Mr. and Mrs. Ryan were awarded the Northwestern Alumni Association’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. That same year, Mr. Ryan was elected to the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame.

The Ryans treasure their three sons, Pat ’97 JD, MBA, Rob ’00 JD, MBA and Corbett, daughter-in-law, Lydia, and three grandchildren along with their extended family members, many of whom have Northwestern degrees.

Susan K. and Stephen R. Wilson

Northwestern salutes Stephen R. ’70, ’74 MBA and Susan K. Wilson ’70 (’08 P) for their loyalty to their alma mater and their generous gifts to Athletics and Recreation over the years. Mr. Wilson earned his undergraduate degree in sociology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and received his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Applying the perspectives and skills acquired at Northwestern, Mr. Wilson built CF Industries Holdings, Inc., into a global leader in fertilizer manufacturing and distribution, retiring in 2014 as its chairman and chief executive officer. He serves on the Northwestern Board of Trustees and on the Steering Committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

Mrs. Wilson earned her degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism before going on to a career in public relations. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and is a member of the Women’s Board of Northwestern.

In 2017, the Wilsons were inducted into the Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame.

The Wilsons raised their children, Jeffrey ’08 MBA and Elizabeth, in Evanston and have many great family memories of cheering on Wildcat teams.

Valerie and Mitchell Slotnick Family

Valerie and Mitchell Slotnick ’63, ’64 MBA, ’68 PhD (’93 P), their sons, Jay and Barry ’93, ’00 MBA, and Barry’s wife, Natalie, enjoy strong ties with the Northwestern community.

Mitchell Slotnick earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and is a charter member of the Otto Graham Society. Northwestern Athletics is grateful to Mitchell and Valerie for their enthusiastic support of the Wildcats over many years. Mitchell and Valerie are owners of Ridgebrook Travel Ltd./Omni Tours. As founders of Educational Tours, Inc., the Slotnicks have been recognized as national leaders in student travel.

In addition, Valerie Slotnick is an active community member. She is a Governing Member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She and her family have served in a variety of volunteer roles supporting Temple Jeremiah and the North Shore Senior Center, where Valerie served as an associate board member. The Slotnick family was recognized with the North Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA) Family of the Year award in 2017; Mitchell is a founding director of the NSSRA Foundation, where Barry also serves as a director.

Barry Slotnick received a degree in political science at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences before earning his MBA at Kellogg. Barry and Natalie are also members of the Otto Graham Society who have been key supporters of the Wildcats’ Sports Performance priorities. Barry is owner and president of Varisport, Inc., an athletic training equipment company whose products include the UltraSlide® slideboards. Natalie is the owner of Natalie Slotnick Design in Glencoe, Illinois.