A Tribute to W. Richard Stephens, Greenville College president for 16 years
Published: January 17, 2024
Author: Dave Bell
W. Richard Stephens, the eighth president of Greenville College, now university, passed away on December 7, 2023, at the age of 91, more than 30 years after completing his 16-year term as the University’s leader in 1993.
Stephens, a native of Ashburn, Missouri, attended Central Christian College in McPherson, Kansas, for two years before transferring to Greenville College in 1951. He graduated from Greenville College in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in education and went on to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri in 1957 and a doctorate in education from Washington University in 1964.
While at GC, he married Arlene Greer of Enid, Oklahoma, whom he had met at Central Christian College. They had three children, Rick, Kendall, and Kelli; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Arlene died in 2008.
As he worked on his doctorate, he returned to Greenville in 1957 to teach in the education department and coach baseball. He left to teach at Indiana State University from 1964 to 1971 but returned to his alma mater as academic dean from 1971 until he was named president in 1977.
Though his time as president was a difficult one for higher education across the nation because of dwindling state and federal funding and declining enrollment, Stephens worked diligently to significantly grow an endowment for GC, increase enrollment, and was active in several national committees to improve the financial picture in higher education. For instance, he chaired the board of the Federation of Independent Colleges and Universities, served on the Committee on National Challenges in Education as well as the American Council on Higher Education, and was one of several people who helped found the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.
Stephens also presided over an era of exciting growth of facilities and programs on the GC campus. Among the highlights are: the dedication of Clarence H. Snyder Hall, dedication of the Eleanor M. Armington Center, dedication of the LaDue Music Center, completion of the track, addition of football as a varsity sport, approval of a contemporary Christian music major, opening of the sports training annex, construction of the recreation center, dedication of the Irwin L. Young Library Tower, and celebration of the school’s centennial in 1992.
He was succeeded in the presidency by Robert E. “Ish” Smith in 1993. After retiring, Stephens continued to work as a consultant for colleges and universities, including a mentorship program for college presidents.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants, and Rich Stephens is one of those giants,” said current GU President Suzanne Davis. “He loved Jesus Christ, he loved students, and he loved this institution. Rich innovated for this university in ways far ahead of his time. His books and countless journal articles remind us of his vision for GU. Even after his retirement, Rich remained involved in Greenville University … I’m grateful for the legacy he leaves here at GU.”
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, January 26, at the Greenville Free Methodist Church and a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, also at the church.
Memorial gifts are suggested to Greenville University or Central Christian College.
The memorial service will be live streamed on the GFMC YouTube channel.