Despite injury and infection, University of Iowa housing director tackled monumental feats in 2020

'It just proves how adaptable we are,' Van Stange says

Von Stange is the assistant vice president for Student Life & senior director of University Housing & Dining at the Univ
Von Stange is the assistant vice president for Student Life & senior director of University Housing & Dining at the University of Iowa. Photographed Dec. 21 outside Burge Hall on the UI campus in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In 2020, Von Stange oversaw the complex emergent evacuation of thousands of students from University of Iowa residence halls as an unknown coronavirus blanketed the region with an invisible but deadly threat.

As director of UI Housing and Dining, Stange waded through murky decisions in the days, weeks and months that followed about refunds for students forced out early; wages for employees slighted an opportunity to work; and how to repopulate the campus’ 10 halls safely in the fall — or whether to attempt the fete at all.

As it happened, Stange was honored in 2020 with an annual appointment as president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, tasking him — once the virus hit — with helping other campuses around the world tackle the same quagmire of concerns.

“We weren’t unique when it came to housing operations and how we were being impacted, so we were trying to guide people — through the association — on how to respond.

“And then George Floyd was murdered, and there were a lot of racial concerns,” Stange said. “And a lot of that was occurring not only on my home campus but campuses across the country.”

Somewhere between the abrupt spring exodus and the arduous fall return, the 59-year-old Stange caught COVID-19 himself — plaguing him with a stinging headache, “the worst headache I’ve ever had,” along with chills and nausea.

His infection came just as he was presiding over an international virtual conference for the university housing association mid-June.

“So I had people on backup in order to say, ‘Hey, if I’m down for the count, you’re going to have to pick up some stuff,’” Stange said.

In August — on the brink of bringing hordes of UI first-timers into a recalibrated residential system rife with new rules and unprecedented risks — Stange, of Coralville, fell off a ladder while cleaning up from the region’s historic derecho just days earlier.

“I had to have surgery in September for a massively torn rotator cuff, which I’m still recovering from,” he said.

But when asked what he will remember most about this epic year, Stange didn’t dwell on the low lights.

“Sending my youngest child off to college,” he said about his daughter, Maureen, a freshman this year at the University of Northern Iowa.

Although 2020 stole Stange’s opportunity to visit Australia for the international association’s annual conference, landed him in more doctor’s offices than he cared to visit and compounded his job demands, he emerged with a sense of resolve.

“It just proves how adaptable we are as individuals, and as a university, and as a country,” he said. “It was a challenge … but we work through these challenges, and we don’t do it alone. We do it with others.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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