Warren Madden retires after 50 years at Iowa State

Vice President of Business Warren Madden talks during the New Sports Complex meeting on Tuesday, Feb 15 at Knapp Storms.

Travis Charlson

“Wait! You dropped your dollar.”

The broad, wooden door furnished with its engraved, frosted-glass window swung open and out stepped a soft-featured man, his gray hair combed back, arm outstretched and clutching a crumpled and faded dollar bill. With an eloquent stride defiant of his age, he hurried down the iron and marble stair case to the foyer of Beardshear Hall, black-and-grey checkered tie swinging with each step.

“There. Part of your lunch today is on me,” he said with a kind smile, handing over the crumpled note.

At the top of those stairs, etched on the frosted-glass window are the words “Office of the Senior Vice President of Business and Finance”. Behind it, to the left and down the hall, sits a humble corner office overlooking campus; an aerial photograph of the university and a canvas of abstract trees hang on the walls.

In the middle of the room, pushed against the wall, sits a large wooden desk cluttered with stacks of papers containing numbers and figures that deal with the intricacies of operating Iowa’s largest university.

Behind the stacks of papers sits Warren Madden — a man in his mid-70s wearing wire-framed glasses, who with a welcoming demeanor and a deep-baritone voice, is eager to assist in any way he can.

Responsible for fiscal operations — as well as overseeing the business operations of all university activities — Madden has had a major hand in the development and success of Iowa State since he started in 1966.

After 50 years of keeping track of the university’s finances — and not to mention this reporter’s lunch money — he’s decided that the time has come to retire at the end of June. The announcement came at center court at Hilton Coliseum during halftime of the West Virginia men’s basketball game, prompting a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.

When Madden talked about his experiences and plans for retirement, he spoke fondly of his time here, of the Ames community and what lies ahead for him and his wife Beverly.

On coming to Iowa State as a student

“I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the oldest of four children in a family. I wanted to be an engineer and at the time that I came out here in 1957, you could enroll at Iowa State for about what it would cost to go to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana,” Madden said. “Iowa State had a great engineering school. I thought I could get a little further away from home and I had a good high school friend who was coming out here, so at the time I was making my decision, it was a good choice.”

On coming to Iowa State as an administrator

“One of the faculty members that was teaching when I was an undergraduate student was my predecessor, Wayne Moore,” Madden said.

“Wayne had been a professor at a time when the university had only 8,000 students, so I had gotten to know him. I had just finished up my graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and Wayne called to ask if I would be interested in coming back out here to Iowa State. He had been promoted to vice president and needed someone to work in his area. My wife had started a graduate degree and hadn’t finished it, so we thought we would come back for a couple of years, and two years eventually turned into 50. And for us, it’s been a good decision. It’s been a great experience at a great institution working with great people,” he said.

On developing relationships

“I’ve chaired various committees and worked with a number of student government leaders over the years and have found that to be very enjoyable,” Madden said. “One of the great satisfactions I get is when students who were here years ago come back a decade later, successful in their own careers and I have a chance to interact and visit with them, and they indicate that I played a positive role in their careers and goals they had.”

Madden’s time at Iowa State is vast, and the number of people he’s been in contact with is all encompassing.

“I’ve worked with seven different presidents of the university. I happen to believe that each one of those presidents was the right person for Iowa State during the time that they were president. And having been able to work with and accommodate people with various administrative styles while contributing to the overall growth and development of Iowa State during that period gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” he said.

On some of his greatest achievements

“We’ve continued to see Iowa State grow and develop. Students are coming here, and although the substantial enrollment growth presents challenges, I think it indicates that Iowa State continues to be an attractive institution,” Madden said.

Since Madden arrived at Iowa State the amount of land the university owns has tripled, and he’s had the opportunity to help get many major building programs approved.

“I was able to play a significant role in getting the Research Park going. Initially it was housed in Beardshear Hall, and now it’s one of the most significant university-affiliated research parks in the country. Having the opportunity to support researchers that are really changing things in the world has been a rewarding experience,” Madden said.

While at Iowa State, he also took on the role of being a Board of Trustees member for CyRide.

“Being on the CyRide Board of Trustees, I’ve seen it grow from two or three buses to a hundred, with ridership now exceeding around 7 million annually. It’s changed both the campus and community.”

On Veishea

“I have a photograph someplace, taken during one of the early Veishea riots. I was standing out there in the street, using a PA from a squad car telling students to disperse and go home,” Madden said. “People were causing difficulty, and a brick was thrown and just missed my head. A photographer happened to catch that picture, and you can see that if the brick would have been 4 inches over, well, I don’t know if I’d still be here.”

“So are there times that have been challenging? Sure. If you’re ever around large enough crowds on a Friday or Saturday night, you see a side of society you don’t normally see. Those are events you wish you don’t ever have to deal with, but I think we worked our way through those.”

On Matt Campbell

“I enjoy and support athletics at Iowa State. We go to most of the football games, along with men and women basketball and various other events. We hope to continue to be athletic supporters and followers and get to see some postseason play,” Madden said. “Hopefully the football program will move back into a position to do that. Matt Campbell’s recruiting and energy level appears to be good. I’ve been around some presentations by him and his assistant coaches, and I think he is putting together a great team,” Madden said.

“He hasn’t lost a game yet, right?” he said, jokingly.

On staying involved

“There are some real estate things I am still involved with at Iowa State, and I told the president I would still try and help with those even when I retire,” Madden said. “I have a vast, institutional memory and an administrative background and will continue to be helpful, if I can, to Iowa State.”

However, daily business isn’t the only place Madden intends to keep a foothold, at least for a while.

“I’m an active alumnus, a governor at the ISU Foundation, and my wife and I are donors to Iowa State in various ways. We plan to remain in Ames and be engaged in whatever volunteer things we can do for both Iowa State and the Ames community.”

On plans for retirement

“I haven’t very much recently, but I used to play golf. Maybe I’ll get back at that. My wife and I have a bucket list of some things we would like to do. We plan to stay in Ames, but we would like to do some international travel,” Madden said. “Australia and New Zealand are on our bucket list. One of the things we have done over the past 20 years and have enjoyed doing is bicycling in Europe. As our health continues on we will continue to look at doing some of that.”

Madden did say he intends to stay in Ames though, thanks in part to the community.

“We like the seasons that come in Iowa. Sure, there are moments when cold weather and winter are an issue, but I don’t find it to be unlivable by and large. I like the seasonal changes. Our plan is to stay in this environment. Ames is a great community.”

On 50 years at Iowa State

“All of my career, my office has been in that building. At some point you have to decide it’s time to make a change, and 50 years is one of those milestone points. It’s been a great place to work, Ames is a great community to live in and it’s a great place to have raised a family,” Madden said.

“If you go out into the atrium of Beardshear Hall and look up at the dome, you’ll see the gold leaf up there — one of the personal contributions my wife and I made. I get to walk into Beardshear every day and look up at that, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.”