Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Truly a long Baker legacy

May 12, 2005

There is no doubt there will be sadness as Dan Lambert's chapter as president of Baker University comes to a close. But, there's also no doubt it will be among the best chapters in the college's book.

Lambert announced his pending retirement Friday. He'll step down at the end of the 2005-2006 year. What he has achieved during his 18 years at the helm of the Methodist college is amazing. It's one of those where do you start lists.

But, since it's such a long list, it really doesn't matter. There's doubling the school's endowment to $30 million. Maybe just as important is the establishment of the School of Professional and Graduate Studies in Overland Park in 1988. That was followed three years later with the founding of the School of Nursing in Topeka.

For anyone who has been around the Baldwin City campus, the $20 million in improvements made to the buildings and grounds come to mind. There's the renovated library and student union. There's the still on-going sprucing of the Charlie Richard Sports Complex and the crown jewel of the site -- historic Liston Stadium.

But, for many, the most significant improvements on the campus during his tenure have been the addition of the first full-time Methodist chaplain and the move that brought -- brick by brick -- the 19th-century chapel from Sproxton, England, in 1996. The Osborne Chapel and the Rev. Ira DeSpain have been among the most popular items on Lambert's long list.

In fact, when pressed, he admits those are his favorites.

No, the accolades and accomplishments that will serve as Lambert's legacy can be -- and often are -- described as astonishing. But, you wouldn't know what all he's done by talking to the soft-spoken man. In fact, he's quick to point to the main reason for his success.

That would be his wife, Carolyn.

They are the first couple of Baker University, make no mistake. He credits her with the huge amount of entertaining and all the behind the scenes work that goes into that, for a large part of what has been accomplished. That's typical of Dan Lambert.

What's also been typical has been the response to his announced retirement. While saddened, his friends and colleagues agree that he is most deserving to take that step at 65 years of age. And, of course, there was some shock with the announcement.

I have to count myself in that group. Although I'd known for years that the day would come that he would step down, I still almost fell out of my chair Friday when I heard. It was one of those "say it isn't so" moments.

I spent Saturday reading the various accounts of the Friday announcement, agreeing with practically every word. Then it hit me. Lambert has been here for 18 years and I've been here for 17 of them. There has been no one else at the helm of Baker for as long as I've known about it. It's also hard to imagine someone else in that role.

But, that's where we're at. Baker and Baldwin City are vital to one another. Lambert has always fostered that all-important feature of community that makes us what we are.

While I'm like most everyone else in Baldwin, wondering who will replace him, there's one of those things I read this weekend that I'm hoping for most of all. That was a quote from Karen Exon, chairwoman of the history, political science and sociology department at Baker. "I hope we can clone him," Exon said.

I couldn't agree more.

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