Bill Babcock and his wife, Barbara, were vacationing in Wisconsin in August 1976 when their car broke down outside Madison. They took it to a dealership, and while the car was being worked on, they explored the city and fell in love with it.
The Babcocks were then living in Des Moines, Iowa, but, “over the next couple of years, we found jobs here and we moved up here in 1978,” said Babcock, executive director of the American Institute of Architects Wisconsin.
Babcock, who has led the group since 1986 and is the longest-serving executive director in the association’s history, recently announced that he plans to retire this summer.
“Time flies when you are having a good time,” he said.
Wisconsin’s AIA chapter represents 1,500 architects working in private practice, business, industry, government and schools.
Babcock recently spoke to The Daily Reporter about his 30-plus years with AIA, and his decision to retire. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
The Daily Reporter: What was it that made you interested in architecture?
Babcock: I kind of got into the nonprofit association world and government affairs so I was working for nonprofit organizations … when my predecessor left to take another job, I threw my hat in the ring and I was lucky enough to be hired as the executive director. So that was back in 1986. I didn’t know a lot about architecture at that time (Babcock earned a master of arts degree from the University of Iowa), but I knew about government affairs and association management.
TDR: How would you sum up your role at AIA?
Babcock: I wear lots of hats, and it’s fun. We have 1,500 individual members across the state and four local sections … I also play a role in advocating for what architects do … and also have a role in continued education programs for architects … have conferences, seminars, workshops.
TDR: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Babcock: Getting to work with members. We have a small staff, 3 ½ people, working with 1,500 members across the state. Architects are very creative, forward-looking professionals. So it’s just been a pleasure working with them on issues that are facing the profession. We’re always kinda looking ahead to see what’s coming next, so it’s never the same.
TDR: What are some of the obstacles that you’ve faced over the years?
Babcock: Some of the issues that I had to deal with when I first came on board had to deal with liability. At that time… you couldn’t purchase liability insurance and that was a significant issue … I also worked with local governments in schools around the state and helped them set up a process for selecting architects for their building project. I had an opportunity to work one-on-one with building committees and help them get their projects off to their best start possible.
TDR: You’re planning on retiring next year?
Babcock: I’m going to be stepping down and getting out of the way. I’ve been around here a long time. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be doing. But it’s time for me to move on and make way for other people to step up and take on leadership roles of the organization.
TDR: Was there one thing in particular to your decision to retire?
Babcock: I think it was kind of family-driven to a certain extent. My wife is retired, and she wanted me around more. I should feel good about that.
TDR: What are some your interests outside of work?
Babcock: I like reading. I like hiking. I like golf now.