John Byrd

John Byrd

by Jasmynne Sloan

John Byrd doesn’t like the dress code but he’ll follow it.

“I own jeans and I love to wear them,” Byrd said. “I’m not necessarily passionate about wearing a coat and tie, but it’s the uniform people expect when you’re representing the institution.”

As Simpson’s 22nd president, Byrd wants to connect with students, but he also has a responsibility to lead the college as an administrator. He’ll start working to find this balance when he visits campus March 21-24.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting more people and just talking to them,” Byrd said. “I want to get to know the people who support Simpson – that means faculty, students, staff, alumni, the people of Indianola and so on.”

Byrd was selected as the college’s next president after a seven-month search process, though he said he searched for a college that was right for him for about a year.

In that year, Byrd was a final candidate at two other universities: Northern Michigan University in February 2004 and Jacksonville University in Florida in May 2004.

Byrd said he knew early on that Simpson College was the right place for him, but most of the Simpson community didn’t even get to meet him before he was chosen as the next president.

Junior Maia Nikolova was one of the few students who met Byrd during the search process.

“He made us feel comfortable to talk to him about what we think are the most important issues on campus,” Nikolova said. “He showed genuine interest.”

Byrd has spent more than 20 years at the University of Evansville in Indiana, and he foresees spending a long time at Simpson.

“At this point I could easily see myself spending the rest of my career at Simpson,” Byrd said. “While no one really knows what twists or turns in the road may come along, I suspect I’ll be here for quite a significant time, hopefully seven to 10 years.”

In other words, Byrd isn’t thinking of Simpson as a way to build his resume for another job.

“I’m old enough right now that after [Simpson] I have to start thinking about what the next step is in my life, not in my career,” Byrd said.

While Byrd will miss friends in Evansville, he’s looking forward to a change of scenery.

“I’m ready for a different kind of challenge,” Byrd said. “Overall, this is really an opportunity to exercise that leadership that I’m ready for.”

One specific way Byrd would like to influence Simpson is by building interest in philanthropic activities. He intends to lead by example.

“We all have an obligation to give back to the community and we all have to take responsibility for the quality of life where we live,” Byrd said. “I’ll be looking early on for ways to get involved in the Indianola community.”

Philanthropy isn’t a new goal for Byrd – he’s served on the board of a number of charities, including the Red Cross in Evansville and the Evansville Association for the Blind.

“I can only guess that Simpson will be very happy with Mr. Byrd,” said Trish DeVoy, executive director of the Evansville Red Cross. “Nobody is more deserving of the honor. I’m glad he’s going to Iowa because he and his wife are good Midwestern people with many of the same values as you probably have.”