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Messiah College President Rodney Sawatsky announces plans to retire
GRANTHAM, Pa. (Jan. 12, 2004) - Messiah College President Rodney J. Sawatsky announced today that after 10 years of service, he plans to retire from his position as president effective June 30, 2004, citing personal health concerns and a desire to spend more time with family. "This has been a very difficult decision for us, a decision we have struggled with ever since I was diagnosed with a brain tumor last March," said Sawatsky in a public statement sent to Messiah trustees, students, and employees this afternoon. "Because we love Messiah so much our preference would have been to stay here for several more years. But we must consider what is best for Messiah and for our family," he said. In his statement, the president announced that following his retirement, he and his wife, Lorna, who are both native Canadians, plan to move closer to their family in Ontario, Canada.
Sawatsky, who underwent brain surgery and radiation treatment for a cancerous tumor in the spring of 2003, had recently returned to his position full-time after a three-month personal leave of absence that enabled him to focus on his medical treatment and recovery this fall. During that time, Dr. and Mrs. Sawatsky still served as ambassadors at college events, and the president remained in daily communication with his senior administrative team, led by Provost Kim Phipps, who served as interim chief administrative officer in his absence.
"It is a difficult task to accept President Sawatsky's letter of retirement," said Eunice Steinbrecher, chair of Messiah's board of trustees, in a written statement released today. "Rod and Lorna have been the public face of and a personal inspiration for our institution…As chair of the board, it has been a personal pleasure and privilege for me to serve in this role during Rod's presidency. He is a leader of exceptional vision, energy, and integrity."
The college's board of trustees will discuss and determine the process and next steps for selecting a new president at their annual winter meeting, held Feb. 1-3. Steinbrecher says that the board expects to publicly announce the details related to the search and selection process sometime in early February.
Career Highlights at Messiah College
Sawatsky was inducted as the seventh president of Messiah College in July of 1994. Early in his administration, he directed several key initiatives to enhance both the mission and quality of Messiah College.
Soon after his arrival, he led a collaboration of Messiah's trustees, students and employees to create the college's new mission and identity statement. Placing academic excellence and the college's Christian heritage and identity at the forefront, Messiah committed itself anew under Sawatsky's leadership "... to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith ..." Sawatsky went on to guide the formulation of the college's strategic plan. Articulating Messiah's foundational values, educational objectives and emerging focal points in the coming century, the plan focused the college's efforts on promoting student learning and advancing scholarship and teaching. To this end, the plan emphasized educating the whole person-body, mind and spirit-by building a Christian community of learning which embraces a wide diversity of students, encourages international study, and fosters a spirit of unity and service.
Under Sawatsky's administration, the college has also strengthened the resources and focus of its college ministries program, adding a full-time director of campus ministries in addition to a vice provost of college ministries and college pastor. In 1997, Messiah launched the Agapé Center, a centralized program which coordinates and supports all of Messiah's student service-learning programs including various urban ministries, volunteer activities of many kinds and other church and community service opportunities both nearby and abroad.
Under Sawatsky's leadership, Messiah has added several new facilities to its campus-including construction of the Jordan Science Center in 1999, providing state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories for students in the natural sciences and health studies, and a home for the new Oakes Museum. This fall, due to the success of Messiah's current $50 million capital campaign, To Serve & To Lead, the college finished construction of Boyer Hall, the campus' largest academic building and is scheduled to open the new Larsen Student Union in March.
Recognizing its most distinguished alumnus and trustee-the late Ernest L. Boyer, Sr.-Messiah College established The Boyer Center under Sawatsky's administration in 1997. Offering a comprehensive archive of Boyer's papers and memorabilia, The Boyer Center facilitates scholarship projects which advance the noted educator's ideas and contributions. Under Sawatsky, the college also launched the Sider Institute, a center dedicated to the advancement of Wesleyan, Anabaptist and Pietist studies, reflecting Messiah's own denominational roots in the Brethren in Christ Church. The college has also grown in its ability to attract external sources of funding, such as a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation, awarded in 2000, which Messiah is using to help students explore the concept of God's vocation in their own personal and professional lives.
In 1999, Sawatsky, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, launched an academic restructuring of the college. Focused on enhancing student learning, the new structure organized the college's academic program into five interdisciplinary schools, each led by its own academic dean. The new structure was implemented in the 2001-2002 academic year and has resulted in academic growth, innovation and increased community engagement, particularly in the greater Harrisburg region. Since coming to Messiah, Sawatsky has guided the college in its quest for continued excellence in all areas of its operation and mission-enhancing Messiah's academics, Christian service and ministry, student programming, state-of-the-art facilities, and technological innovations.
Sawatsky is also heavily involved with service in the greater Harrisburg region, serving on the boards of such organizations as the Harrisburg Symphony and the Association of Pennsylvania Independent Colleges and Universities.
Born in Manitoba, Canada, Sawatsky was educated in both Canadian and American schools, including Canadian Mennonite Bible College (Manitoba), Bethel College (Kansas), and the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis). Besides earning his master's degree in American history from the University of Minnesota, he obtained a second master's degree and his Ph.D. in American religious history from Princeton University (New Jersey).
Sawatsky's career has remained true to his key interests: religion, history and higher education. At the age of 21 he was already teaching history and Bible at Bethel Bible Institute (Alberta). From there he became a history instructor at his alma mater, Canadian Mennonite Bible College, following his graduate work at the University of Minnesota.
One year after completing his doctoral studies, he began his educational career at Conrad Grebel College, one of four church-related constituent colleges of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He began as director of academic affairs and assistant professor of religious studies and history, progressed to academic dean and associate professor, and later served as acting president and then academic vice president. He became president of Conrad Grebel in 1989.
During the course of his academic career, he was awarded several fellowships, scholarships and research grants. He used two of these awards for sabbatical leaves, during which he pursued research at Berkeley, California, and around the world. His research focused on the contemporary church and education, Mennonite identity, and new religious expressions including sects, cults and New Age spirituality. He also served as editor of the Conrad Grebel Review: A Journal of Christian Inquiry from 1987-1990. In addition to his teaching, research and administrative duties, he fulfilled many requests from a variety of organizations to lecture and consult and from churches to preach and teach.
Sawatsky married Lorna Jeanne Ewert, an early childhood music educator, in 1964. They have three grown daughters Tanya, Lisa and Katherine who currently all live in Canada.