Truman Review Spring 2003 - Index

Spring 2003
Vol. 7. No.3

A Legacy of Commitment

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Truman Review Spring 2003 - Feature Article

Jack and Sue Magruder

A Legacy of Commitment

For the last 39 years Jack Magruder has shown his commitment to Truman State University—first as a faculty member and for the last nine years as University president—and even though he is retiring this year, he will continue telling the Truman story in his own gracious way.

Nine years ago, the first day in July was like any other summer day. Yet to the more observant eye, subtle changes could be seen taking place on the Truman campus. At seven o'clock that morning, campus maintenance could be seen taking down the "Reserved for President" sign that marked a special parking spot west of Baldwin Hall for
the University President. Their instructions had come from the University's top office. Once the sign was down, they quickly put
a handicap accessible sign in its place.

The "Reserved for President" sign was carted off to a house on the corner of Halliburton and Normal Streets, where it was installed in the garage. The stately red-brick house had been purchased by the University in 1967 and provided a place where the University president could entertain visitors. Jack and Sue Magruder were the current occupants. The maintenance people jokingly asked President Magruder if they should tow his wife's car if she parked in front of the "Reserved for President" sign. Today, the Magruders are preparing to leave the University Residence as they move on to the next stage of their lives. Last year, President Magruder announced plans to retire in 2003, and June 30 will be his last day serving as President of Truman State University.

A Girl Named Sue
Jack Magruder's history at Truman began more than half a century ago. "My mother wanted all five children to be able to attend college, so in 1943, she and my father moved the family to Kirksville from Lentner, Mo.," says Magruder. By making this move, Magruder's parents had unwittingly set a sequence of events in motion that would ultimately have a huge impact on their son Jack and his brothers and sisters.

President MagruderAfter graduating from the Kirksville High School, Magruder enrolled at Truman which, at that time, was known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College. There, he met another student named Sue Brimer. Although it's been almost 50 years, Magruder has total recall of the first time he met his bride-to-be. "We were standing under a tree about 40 feet from the southeast door of Baldwin Hall on June 4, 1954," says Magruder. Sue and her roommate, Rosamary Bleigh, were standing in line waiting to enroll, when Rosamary spotted her cousin, Jack, and introduced him to Sue. "I wasn't paying much attention, but we stood there and talked, and it got more interesting by the minute," recalls Sue.

They all made arrangements to get together a few days later at the Magruder home. After they left the Magruder's that night, Rosamary asked Sue what she thought of her cousin, and Sue replied, "Rosamary, that's the guy I'm going to marry." Magruder was having that very same thought, and two months later, Sue Brimer and Jack Magruder were married. "It was kind of a case of recognition," says Sue. "I really wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but it worked for us." The happy couple will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary this summer.

The newlyweds continued their studies, and Sue graduated in 1955. Two years later, Magruder graduated with a double major in chemistry and mathematics. He went on to receive his master's degree at the University of Northern Iowa and a doctorate in chemistry and science education at the University of Northern Colorado. Job opportunities then took the couple out West, but not for long. "He was recruited to teach in a junior college in California, and while he was there, he was recruited by Dean Rosebery to come here and teach," says Sue.

Magruder accepted the offer to join the Truman faculty, and for the next 22 years, he taught in Truman's Science Division. "It was a privilege to teach chemistry at the University, and I had all these students who are now teachers, doctors, lawyers, priests, pastors, principals, and superintendents," says Magruder. "It was one of the most rewarding times of my life." Sue also joined the Truman faculty, and for 13 years, she taught educational psychology and supervised student teachers in elementary education.

It was while he was serving on the faculty that Maria Evans first met Magruder. She was in the eighth grade in Macon, Mo., and Magruder was checking on a student teacher he was supervising. The Truman college professor later influenced her decision to attend the University where she ended up serving as Magruder's work-study student. Evans remembers how he organized grant programs to assist teachers, such as a program that taught the fundamentals of aviation. Another program coached junior high and elementary teachers on the fundamentals of chemistry so they would not be intimidated by the topic. "I used to be his part-time lab assistant and bus driver, so to speak, because I would take these people on field trips driving them in the University van," says Evans, who graduated in 1981.

Evans had another opportunity to work closely with Magruder after he became president and she was selected to serve on the University's Board of Governors. "He is probably the most genuinely kind and genuinely honest person I have ever met - he is the kind of person who can make everyone feel good about whatever job they do for the University," says Evans. "He made me feel just as proud driving the busload of teachers, and that it was as important as being on the Board." As a Board member, Evans admired Magruder's efforts to build a strong relationship between the University and the local community. "He cares as much about the town as he does for the school," says Evans.

The University called upon Magruder once again when he was asked to serve as head of the Science Division. It was during this time period that Vice President for University Advancement Dean Van Galen became acquainted with Magruder while interviewing for a faculty position in 1987. "His office contained some old furniture, a creaky chair and some very unattractive pea-green carpeting," recalls Van Galen. "I remember him jumping out of his chair to greet me like I was his brother - I thought ‘is this guy for real.'" Van Galen, who ended up joining the faculty, says, "Over the last 16 years, I've learned that he certainly is very real." Like so many others, Van Galen found Magruder to be a true friend, as well as a valued mentor.

Professor of Chemistry Dawood Afzal also met Magruder when he came to campus for a job interview. Fifteen years later, Afzal still remembers his first few months as a faculty member. "When I first came to campus, he [Magruder] gave me a very difficult assignment, but he made it clear that I could always seek his help," says Afzal. "Anytime I wanted to see him, I had no problem, and it was a
wonderfully supportive and nurturing experience for a young faculty member."

After serving as a division head for three years, Magruder was promoted to vice president for Academic Affairs (VPAA), a position he held for the next five years. Garry Gordon, the University's current VPAA, appreciates how Magruder remembers what it is like to hold that position. "He truly believes in empowering people and supporting them," says Gordon. "President Magruder always asserts that ‘we all work for the vice president for Academic Affairs,' a symbolic way of saying that the academic focus of the University is our primary concern, and all that we do should be guided by our support for
students and student learning."

The Move to the Top
Yet another turning point for Magruder took place in 1994. When Russell Warren, who had been serving as University president since 1990, decided to move on, the Board of Governors asked Magruder to serve as interim president. At the time, Magruder accepted thinking it would be a temporary position. However, as time passed, the Board saw that he was up to the task. On Aug. 4, 1995, Magruder was officially installed as University president. Thomas R. Shrout Jr., Board president at that time, says, "We had every confidence that he would do well, and he exceeded our expectations."

Knowing that the job demanded contact with the legislative process, board members were prepared to offer their support. However, Shrout says Magruder soon revealed that he was a natural when it came to telling the story of Truman in a persuasive and friendly manner to the members of the General Assembly. "I think he is one of the most respected and revered presidents who visit Jefferson City," says Shrout. "The first time he testified in Appropriations Committee, he got a standing ovation from the Committee because he essentially told them that Truman focuses resources on students and instruction, and they liked that."

Thanks in part to Magruder's unique ability to tell the Truman story, Truman has gained national attention as Missouri's premier liberal arts and sciences university with a highly selective student body and a focus on assessment. For Ruth Mach, a current member of the Board of Governors, Truman State University has become synonymous with Magruder. "He dared to dream the impossible dream," says Mach, who credits his leadership as one of the main reasons the University has changed from a little-known college in the Midwest into a renowned world-class educational institution. "In his modest and gentle manner, this resilient and talented president leads with an optimistic and courageous spirit," says Mach.

Mach points out that Magruder has never been one to accept the glory and instead gives credit to those who surround him. Confirming Mach's observation, Magruder describes his relationship with the members of Truman's Board of Governors, past and present, "We have been blessed by dedicated and competent Board members throughout my presidency," says Magruder, adding, "I believe that a lot of the successes associated with this University are because of the Board's support for the mission, as well as for the well-being of our students, the faculty, and the University."

Magruder also recognizes the many contributions his wife, Sue, has made. The Board of Governors recently acknowledged Sue's contributions and service to the University by naming her First Lady Emerita, something that has never been done before at Truman. "That came as a surprise," says Sue, "and it was really gratifying."

Magruder does take great pride in the fact that Truman has been able to do things that no other university has done in terms of its academic program. In its quest to provide a quality education, Truman downsized from 140 degree programs and now offers 43 undergraduate and nine graduate programs. "We have reallocated resources to make certain that the programs that we do offer are done exceedingly well," says Magruder.

Knowing that the heart and soul of the University is its academic program, and that resources are needed to maintain a quality program, Magruder has worked hard to foster the support of alumni, business, industry and the state of Missouri. "I think his sincerity and optimism have engendered trust and, ultimately, support for Truman from outside constituencies, from the legislators he helps to understand our mission, to the former students who remember us in their estates," says Gordon.

Magruder's efforts in the state capital have paid off tremendously. During his presidency, the University has had around $80 million worth of construction under way thanks to the generous appropriations from the state. "One of Magruder's greatest legacies is the relationship he has developed between Truman State University and the Missouri General Assembly and the governors," says Gordon.

Life After Truman

When the Magruders leave the University Residence, they will be moving to their 22-acre farm located a few miles east of Kirksville. "It was a wonderful feeling to move into the president's house, and now it's going to be a wonderful feeling to move back to the house on the farm," says Magruder.

President Magruder sitting on a horseThey are looking forward to spending more time with their three children and nine grandchildren. "Two-thirds of our family lives here in Kirksville, so the way we interact with our children and grandchildren will change quite a bit," says Sue. The Magruders will also have more time to devote to one of their favorite hobbies — horses. When he was a young boy, Magruder often visited his uncle, Harold Gilbert, who raised horses on a farm near Shelbina, Mo., and owned world-champion pulling horses. Like his uncle, Magruder developed a passion for horses and horse-riding. Sue shares this passion, and they now own seven horses — five Missouri Fox Trotters and two Haflingers.

As president, Magruder has had some impressive travel experiences, such as the trip to Israel where he presented a book published by the Truman State University Press to Pope John Paul II. He plans to continue traveling, however, soon he will have the luxury of travel without time restrictions. On previous travels, he has always been bound to a strict schedule because of his job. He and Sue have already plotted their first destination post-retirement — Glacier National Park in Montana.

Being in control of his own time will be a major transition for Magruder. "I'm going to miss the University and being on campus every day — that daily association is something that I have been intensely involved in for the past 39 years," says Magruder, who, even after he retires, plans to be one of the University's greatest cheerleaders. He is enthusiastic in his support of the next president, Barbara Dixon, saying, "I'm handing over a precious University, but it is time to do it."