Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

Lamberts enter final year at Baker

August 18, 2005

It didn't take Dan and Carolyn Lambert long to get comfortable at Baker University.

After he spent 17 years working at William Jewell College, their alma mater, the Lamberts felt right at home shortly after moving to Baldwin City in 1987 when Dan became president of the university.

"We soon realized we had totally fallen in love with this place," said Carolyn, wife of the Baker president. "The students seemed so natural and excited about learning. It was a perfect fit for us."

The perfect fit lasted for nearly two decades. Lambert, who turns 65 in January, announced in May that the 2005-2006 school year would be his last leading Baker. The Lamberts plan to retire in the Kansas City or Lawrence area to spend more time with their four grandchildren.

"I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be president of Baker," said Lambert, the 27th president in the University's 147-year history. "I think we've gotten a lot done, and I think there's a lot to do."

Jerry Holley, a 1960 Baker graduate, was chairman of the search committee that selected Lambert from a pool of 100 applicants.

"In my opinion, he was head and shoulders above all the candidates and there were some good ones," said Holley, now executive director of Central Regional Dental Testing Services Inc. "He's done a great job and proved us right."

Lambert's record at Baker speaks volumes. Since his arrival to Baker, he launched the School of Professional and Graduate Studies program and School of Nursing. There have been more than $20 million in improvements to buildings and grounds, and the endowment has doubled to about $30 million in 18 years.

During their time in Baldwin City, the Lamberts have been host to former President Gerald R. Ford, former Great Britain prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, now the vice president. All of them were guest speakers at Baker and created quite a stir on campus.

While being host to such dignitaries is unforgettable for the Lamberts, a special moment involving university workers was among their fondest memories. In the late 1980s, after the university recovered from a "sizable debt" by selling some stock, Lambert decided to share the extra funds with Baker employees.

"Our CFO figured in two weeks time we had earned enough to provide every employee at the university with $100," Lambert said. "I remember standing in our home handing out envelopes with $100. It was our second Christmas here and was one of the most memorable experiences."

Lambert also remembered early in his tenure the challenges of saving and preserving campus landmark Parmenter Hall. It cost $1 million to renovate.

"The board was voting to tear it down," he said. "I told them I'd like to take a crack at it. I had just started and I didn't want the grand old building torn down."

Another special moment came in 1996 when the Clarice L. Osborne Memorial Chapel was dedicated with Margaret Thatcher in attendance. The chapel came from Sproxton, England, where it was dismantled and shipped to Baldwin City and rebuilt.

Lambert had always wanted a chapel on campus as a working symbol of the university's ties to the United Methodist Church. The Clarice L. Osborne Memorial Chapel offers worship services on Thursday during the school year and is the site of several weddings throughout the year.

"If we say spiritual life is important to the undergraduate experience here, we have to act that way," he said.

The chapel often serves as a sanctuary for the Baker president, who grew up the son of a Baptist minister and attended Harvard Divinity School.

"When I have some quiet moments, I go to the chapel," he said. "For a lot of reasons, that is a very special place for us. The opportunity to be involved in a project like that is once in a lifetime."

In addition to the spiritual life on campus, the Lamberts also enjoy traveling with alumni groups.

"That has been a very bonding occurrence," Carolyn said. "When you see everybody with their hair down and having fun ... that's when you build really close-knit relationships."

When she's not traveling with the alumni, Carolyn enjoys entertaining them at the Collins House, especially since the house expanded with a reception area in 1992, thanks to a gift from benefactor Loreine Collins Dieterich.

"I look forward to every event," Carolyn said. "Before the addition, I remember we had to set up dinner tables upstairs in the bedrooms and in the basement for a faculty dinner."

The Collins House has been the Lamberts' home for nearly 20 years. Shortly after the Lamberts' arrival in Baldwin City in 1987, Collins Deiterich approached the Lamberts about the addition. The Lamberts were reluctant to accept finances for the expansion because other campus projects needed attention.

Carolyn recalled an early visit with Collins Deiterich about the Collins House, "She said, 'That's too small. You all entertain all the time and it makes a real difference to Baker. I want the next president to know he has to entertain here because he's got the room.'"

The Collins House also was home for a decade to the Lamberts' favorite dog, Jake.

"I'm sure he was a refugee," Dan said. "My daughter, Kristie, went to school at SMU and brought Jake back to Baldwin. That was the last time she saw the dog because it became our dog. We had Jake for 10 years. He was a great campus dog. He was smart and never left campus."

Since announcing his retirement three months ago, Lambert has received positive feedback.

"People have been very kind," Lambert said. "One of our jobs is to try to make this as smooth a transition as possible. There will be good people who will want to be here."

Lambert, who wants "to make some significant dents" in the capital campaign before he leaves, has always preached the university is bigger than one person.

"It's a mistake for administrators to believe somehow the school belongs to them," he said. "It doesn't. We have a great responsibility during our watch and hope it's a better institution for the next person."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.