A few weeks before his Dec. 31 retirement, President Douglas Zemke ’66 and his wife, Ellen, were honored by the campus community at a “Celebration of Leadership” event held in Kirkland Fine Arts Center.
At the event, more than 20 individuals representing faculty, administrators, students and alumni, spoke of the impact of the well-regarded, seven-and-a-half year Zemke presidency. A few videos were shown, dances were performed and songs were sung, and the evening was highlighted by a declaration that a new $50,000 matching scholarship created by the Millikin board of trustees in honor of the Zemkes had surpassed $100,000 in donations. Subsequently, the James Millikin Estate trustees also created a second Millikin scholarship in honor of the Zemke presidency for students from the Decatur area. Both Zemkes also were recognized at December’s commencement ceremony, where Board Chairman Mikel Briggs took special pleasure in announcing that the board had granted Zemke the rank of president emeritus upon his retirement.
It was a lot of hoopla for a man who was touted at the Kirkland celebration for instilling the office of president with a quiet and authentic sense of dignity, integrity and respect. Many of the speakers praised his undeniable commitment to the university and its students. A few of their comments:
“He truly has a genuine interest in the students here,” said Alex Berry ’09, who was a student worker for two years in the president’s office. “President Zemke makes each one of us proud to be a part of the Millikin family.”
“Doug and Ellen are as real as it gets,” said Walt Wessel ’69, university registrar, who has worked at Millikin for nearly 38 years.
“We appreciate the 24/7 way you went about being our president and first lady,” said incoming Interim President Peg Smith Luy ’75.
John Mickler, director of facility operations, made note of Zemke’s previous roles as dean and board trustee, sharing his light-hearted conclusion that Zemke must have had “trouble holding a position here” before reminding the audience that Zemke never wavered in his focus on the university’s mission to serve its students.
“The last thing he said at his final campus forum was, ‘Remember the mission,’” Mickler said.
Vice President of Enrollment Rich Dunsworth described Zemke as a man who did not live by “situational ethics” but a mentor who asked the question, “If higher education can’t fight when they’re right, who’s left to protect truth?”
Following their retirement, the Zemkes planned to return to Ohio to be closer to family and their previous home of many years. Interim President Luy will serve until the April 1 arrival of Millikin’s 14th president, Dr. Harold Jeffcoat.
President Zemke by the numbers:
» 7 - The number of years that Douglas E. Zemke served as Millikin’s president.
» 1 - His primary focus as president: To deliver on the promise of education for all Millikin students.
» 13 - His lucky number. He started his first job on June 13, he is Millikin’s 13th president, and his association with the university as trustee, dean and then president began 13 years ago.
» 31 - The date of his retirement: Dec. 31, 2010.
» 66 - A 1966 graduate, Zemke was a standout on the Big Blue wrestling team.
» 24 - The number of speakers at a retirement event held in honor of President Zemke and his wife, Ellen, on campus in December.
» 6 - The number of different roles Zemke has held in relation to his alma mater: student, parent of a student, trustee, dean, president and now president emeritus.
» 3 - The number of times President Zemke began a new career after retirement: He became dean of the Tabor School after retiring from a 30-year career in telecommunications, then retired as dean in 2001 only to return as the university’s president in 2003.