LaGree says au revoir


by Shara Tibken

After six years as president of Simpson College, R. Kevin LaGreehas decided to call it quits.

Kevin’s plans to leave Simpson College were announced to theSimpson community and the presidential cabinet on Aug. 12 through amass email following his notification of resignation to the boardof trustees the day before.

The resignation largely came as a surprise to members of SimpsonCollege.

“He told all of us at cabinet, all of the vice presidents at thesame time,” said Bruce Haddox, vice president and dean for academicaffairs. “I think all of us were surprised. We weren’t expectingit, but when he explained his reasons for it, it made sense to me.He’s always had a feel for the ministry.”

His wife and members of the college have supported Kevin’sdecision.

“I support his decision to go into the ministry,” said SteveWeeber, chairman of the board of trustees and chairman of thesearch committee to find a new president. “I know that he’s beenthinking about it for quite a period of time, so when somebodyyou’re working with decides to do something like that, as long asthey feel it’s the right thing for them, then what else is one todo except support them?”

“I’m fully supportive of it,” Patty LaGree said. “I love beingat Simpson, and it was a surprise to me that this decision didn’tbother me more. To me, that is reassurance that this is the rightthing to do. Really, being a president’s wife and being a pastor’swife are very much the same job.”

The decision for Kevin to leave the college was a joint decisionbetween him and his wife.

“We talked about it,” Patty said. “Of course it was Kevin’ssense that this was the right thing to do at this time, but I hadno problem affirming that.”

For about a year, Kevin thought actively about returning to theministry.

“For the last three or so years, I’ve been doing a lot ofreading about what is called Benedictine spirituality…As I keptreading, I got really intrigued by Benedictine spirituality becauseeven though it’s designed for monks living in a community that’ssequestered from the world, it’s something that’s actuallyapplicable to everyday life. It’s a way of living that is wonderfulin many ways and can apply to anybody,” Kevin said.

Recalling conversations he had with Archbishop Desmond Tutuwhile at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., Kevin decided to spend aweek in May 2003 at an episcopal benedictine monastery called St.Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Mich.

Crowds rarely filled the monastery, so Kevin spent his timebetween prayer services, reading books and taking notes.

“It struck me that that was really what I did everyday when Iwas a pastor in the church, that process of preparing sermons whereyou read the texts that are given for each Sunday of the Christianyear, and as you read them, it kicks off ideas, and you start doingyour research, which was what I did every week when I was apastor,” Kevin said. “The other thing that hit me was how much Iloved it and how much I missed it, and I hadn’t really noticed thatI missed it. I sort of pushed it down.”

Besides his spirituality, the fact that he receives two to fivecalls every year from academic search organizations that want himto work for other colleges also played an important role into hisdecision to leave.

“I had reached the decision because of the fact that I reallydidn’t want to leave Simpson to be the president somewhere else,”Kevin said. “I knew I’d be disappointed. This is a wonderful place.It’s a great fit for me and for Patty. We love it here.”

Kevin’s determination to work at a church following retirementwas another crucial element to reach his decision.

“For a couple of years, there has been a sense that Kevin didnot want to go to another school when we left here, but that inretirement, he would probably take a small church,” Patty said.”That was something that he wanted to do, and then that maybe hewould retire early, not wait until he was 65 or older. As it becamemore and more clear to him that that was what he was feeling calledto do now, the time table just moved up.”

Turning 55 this year, confirmed to Kevin it was time toleave.

“There are stages in your life when you sort of step back andreevaluate things,” Kevin said. “At 55 I’m thinking, I’ve got 10 to15ish years left to actively engage…I’ve got this time where Icould really be doing something.”

The news of Kevin’s resignation created mixed reactions amongSimpson students.

“It’s sad because he was here when I became a freshman, and hewill not be here when my class graduates,” said junior KatieLangesen.

On the other hand, for sophomore Elisha Girken, Kevin’sresignation won’t have a big impact in her life. “I didn’t reallyget to know him well, so it’s not really going to affect me,”Girken said.

Both Kevin and Patty expressed that they will definitely missthe connections they formed with the Simpson community once theyleave.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with the students in alot of ways,” Patty said. “My calling is to be a teacher, so thathas been the best part for me.”

For Kevin, “just getting connected with the students andwatching them grow and develop, and then just watching them succeedas they go out in the world is the most satisfying and richlyrewarding.”

Nevertheless, Simpson community needs to have a newcommander-in-chief for next year, so the process to find a newpresident has already started.

Barbara Taylor, a consultant from Academic Search ConsultationService, will be on campus Sept. 8 and 9 to collect input fromstudents.

During the searching process, the still president of Simpsonwon’t have a say at all.

“Presidents who try to choose their successors generally makemany mistakes,” Kevin said. “Only bad things could come ofthat.”

Although Kevin and Patty still plan to be active on campus infollowing years, they won’t be around campus next year.

“Nobody here will see us for at least a year,” Patty said. “Ithink that’s the fair thing for whoever comes next, but we willstill be financially supporting Simpson and following the athleticteams.”

Kevin has already been assigned a church in Des Moines. He willbecome the pastor at First United Methodist Church starting July 1,2005.

Currently, the LaGrees are in the process of buying a house inthe Sherman Hills neighborhood of Des Moines, and will probablytake possession of the house in October, according to Kevin.

“I really liked being president of Simpson, but there was thisdeep gladness of the intellectual and creative act of working onsermons and really connecting with people that I missed,” Kevinsaid. “It was sort of a deeper gladness that I missed, even deeperthan the gladness of being the president of Simpson.”