McKendree University honored its longest-serving president, Dr. James Dennis, with its Friend of the University Award on Founders Day, Feb. 20.
Held at the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, the event celebrating the university’s 192nd year also included remarks by special guests from the United Methodist Church.
Since 2002 the Friend of the University Award has recognized non-alumni who have consistently given exemplary service and maintained a positive influence on the image and direction of the university.
“In every way, Jim Dennis has been a friend to McKendree University,” said his successor, President Daniel Dobbins. “Certainly, his professional service has been remarkable. His tenure here has spanned 26 years—an incredible run in any industry but particularly in higher education.”
“Through his efforts and leadership, Jim Dennis has forever changed the McKendree we know today, and the future that has yet to become,” he continued. “Perhaps one of his most enduring legacies is his friendship shown to our university and to the community of people who are at the heart of all we do here: our faculty and staff, alumni and donors, and most of all, our students. Their affection for him and appreciation of his leadership, and the transformational impact he has had on their lives, is remarkable.”
Currently on sabbatical, Dennis will retire in June as the university’s 32nd president. Arriving from southern California in 1994, he went on to lead McKendree to dramatic, unprecedented growth in academic strength, degree programs, enrollment, facilities, and extracurricular activities. The former “College” became a “University” in 2007 to reflect more accurately its broader educational opportunities. In each of the last three decades, McKendree earned reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, and national recognition from U.S. News and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Under Dennis’ leadership, successful fundraising campaigns enabled construction of the Piper Academic Center, Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, athletic facilities and residence halls, and the renovation of historic buildings. He championed initiatives to encourage greater diversity and understanding. Extracurricular activities like NCAA athletics, marching band, debate and cyber defense teams have contributed to a more vibrant campus community.
Rev. Dr. Tamara Gieselman, executive director of colleges schools and universities of the Greater Board of Higher Education Ministry in Nashville, Tenn., called Dennis “one of McKendree University’s remarkable outcomes” and a “prototypical college university president.”
Additional presentations on behalf of the United Methodist Church were made by Rev. Janice Griffith of the Illinois Great Rivers Council (IGRC) Bishop’s Office; and Amy Shreve of the IGRC Board of Higher Education Ministry.
PHOTO: McKendree University President Daniel Dobbins, left, congratulates Dr. James Dennis, who received the 2020 Friend of the University Award on Founders Day, Feb. 20.