All too often, individuals become synonymous with the jobs they spend their lives working. In the case of Paul Lueken, he does not let his role as the Athletic Director at Slippery Rock University define him as a person. Despite the immense pleasure attained from 25 years in charge of the SRU athletic department, he’s learned to value the little things in life.
A life-altering event almost ten years ago changed his entire perspective on life and allowed him to see what makes life worth living: family.
“[Losing my first wife] definitely showed me what’s important in life. Being an athletic director at Slippery Rock University is a big part of my life, but I don’t let it control my life,” Lueken, 59, said. “I learned what was important. Definitely, don’t sweat the little thing in life. I try to look at the big picture and stay as calm and level headed as I can. Still get excited sometimes, when I need to, but it really taught me about what’s important in life. The family, the community, and support I have.”
When Lueken’s first wife, Rose Ann Lueken, passed away in August of 2010 following a 13-year battle with cancer, Lueken credited the outpouring of support from the community in helping him through the hardest time of his life.
Outstanding support from the Slippery Rock community aside, Lueken pointed to his new wife and her two children in helping bring joy back to his life, too.
“I’ve been very blessed, and I’ve found another special woman who brought two wonderful children. We have a super thing going there, and I’m really enjoying life. I just became a grandfather and I’m really enjoying that, too,” Lueken said.
Since truly realizing the importance of family, community and love in maintaining a fulfilling life, he has instilled that same family atmosphere in his own department. Family comes first and in dealing with issues involving family, that comes before anything – even work.
However, while family always comes first to Lueken, his work as the Athletic Director at SRU has been everything he’s ever wanted… even if he did not know it when arriving on campus almost 25 years ago.
“I thought it’d be a three to five year stop and maybe I’d move on to Division I as an athletic director,” laughed Lueken. “The place grows on you though. When I first got here, I saw a lot of room for growth, facility updates and improvements, scholarship growth and lots of other room for opportunities. It was a challenge that I wanted to give a try.”
Before coming to The Rock, Lueken attended Earlham College and ventured into the insurance field after earning a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Business. After deciding he did not envision selling insurance in the future, he returned to school at St. Thomas University in Florida.
“I really enjoyed my time as a student-athlete and working in the field house,” said Lueken. “I thought, ‘how can I do that?’ so I went and got a degree in sports administration with the goal of being a college athletic director.”
The path to becoming an athletic director took Lueken back home to Southern Illinois where he received an offer from near-by Eastern Illinois University.
For four years, he served as the director of athletic development and the assistant athletic director of marketing and promotions. During his time at EIU, Lueken combined his love of golf and helping others by becoming a coach.
While at EIU, Lueken received an offer from a small, state school which he had never heard of in a whole different state. His dream of being a college athletic director was close to becoming reality just a few hundred miles away in western Pennsylvania.
“I got a great opportunity to start my career at Eastern Illinois University and that was where I grew up, so that was home. And then this opportunity as Slippery Rock came and to get the athletic director job was a dream come true.”
However, the up and downs in Lueken’s athletic administration career began early. Day one, in fact, started with a challenge.
“I inherited an NCAA issue with men’s basketball. That was a tough time trying to get them going in the right direction, but we did,” Lueken stated. “I didn’t realize they were asking the athletic director to also do compliance which was a tough job and I had not done that. I was a revenue generator and a coach before, but I learned quickly. That first year was difficult in trying to learn that side of the business.”
With the NCAA levying sanctions against the men’s basketball program in 1993, Lueken spent a year learning his job on-the-fly under intense scrutiny from the university. The unusual circumstances enabled him to become accustomed to every aspect of his job earlier than expected.
While dealing with the pressure of returning an NCAA sanctioned program to compliance, Lueken dealt with moving his growing family to Slippery Rock and steering SRU toward the vision he had in his mind.
“I tried to get some of the things that I had envisioned off the ground,” Lueken said. “Getting the family settled in, building a house, moving from a home in northern Illinois to an apartment here in Slippery Rock. The community has developed greatly since then in terms of amenities available to us.”
Slippery Rock’s family-oriented environment enabled Lueken and his family to quickly become acclimated to the community and made leaving almost impossible. He stressed how the people he interacts with every day make life at SRU so rewarding.
“It’s the people. It really is the people that we work with here. Everybody seems to be working on the same mission, have the same goals and want to achieve the same things for this university and community,” Lueken said.
With almost 25 years of service dedicated to the athletic department at SRU, Lueken pointed to the upgrades of athletic buildings as one of the most rewarding experiences of his job. However, it’s the continued success of student-athletes in the classroom—as well as on the field—that brings him the most pride.
Since winning the Dixon Cup—an award given to the best overall athletic program in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference—in 2007-2008, SRU has consistently been able to stay within the top five of every year’s race.
With the academic and athletic success of student-athletes at an all-time high under Lueken, he complimented the leadership from past and present SRU Presidents in helping build a program that rivals that any in Division II.
“To sit here and think that we would have all the updates across campus since I came here is remarkable,” Lueken stated. “It’s a testament to the leadership that we’ve had here, and I’ve been able to have great relationships with all those folks. I’m on my sixth president here and I’m enjoying working with President Behre.”
Aside from his work at the Morrow Field House and all of the athletic buildings on campus, Lueken has taken every opportunity to give back to the community which has done so much for him. The Butler County Board of Tourism provided the perfect opportunity to get involved.
“Athletics often serve as the front door to our campus. We can bring a number of events onto campus through our athletic fields. Events that bring visitors to the community. I got involved with the Butler Country Tourism Board through that and they talked me into being the treasurer. I just came off my six-year term as treasurer and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I got to meet so many great people in Butler county from all different businesses and walks of life. I actually miss the day-to-day interaction,” Lueken admitted.
In addition to staying invested in the community, Lueken enjoys playing golf and spending time with his friends and family. Despite growing up a Cubs fan, Lueken attends as many Pirates games as possible with his wife and children in at PNC Park.
Lueken lives in Slippery Rock with his wife Donna while their children, Adam, Lindsey, Tyler and Hannah have spread out across western Pennsylvania. A self-described homebody, Lueken takes pleasure in working around the house. Although, the work does not hold the same appeal it used to.
“Maybe because I’m getting older and can’t keep at it quite as hard,” Lueken smiled.
With August 4, 2019, serving as the official 25-year anniversary of his time at The Rock, Lueken is blessed to still be living the dream. Before the anniversary of his tenure, Lueken looks forward to spending some time with his wife.
“I’m kind of a homebody but my wife and I like to travel a little bit in the summer to our national parks,” said Lueken. “We’ve been to several out west and we’re looking to go this summer back to California or maybe up into Maine at some of the national parks up there.”
Through it all, after 25 unforgettable years as the face of Rock athletics—experiencing soaring highs and depressing lows—Lueken could not be more thankful for where the road has taken him.
“To still be in this position 25 years later… I’m living the dream. I still enjoy it every single day,” Lueken explained.