This article was written by President Emeritus Jim J. Adams, with contributions of Board Chair Michael Whyte and Freelance Writer Rod Light
Outgoing university presidents often are provided the opportunity to reflect on their tenure with an institution. I would like to take such an opportunity to share what I consider to be the legacy of my presidential colleagues from the past 100 years, along with a section on my tenure that has been contributed by Board Chair Dr. Michael Whyte.
Walk with me now through the century as I identify a distinct “flair” for each president who has held this office before me – and for President Angie Richey, “11,” as I refer to her, who will lead my alma mater forward in dynamic and visionary ways.
Aimee Semple McPherson, The Founder-President
My former boss, Dr. Fred Wymore shared a story about our founder and first president Aimee Semple McPherson. She had a reputation of being flamboyant and maybe even an A-list personality among early Hollywood elites. Fred remembers a different person. He spoke of being a young man in class when Sister McPherson stepped into the classroom to teach.
As she spoke, she often raised her arms to heaven accentuating a point or in genuine worship to her Lord Jesus. Fred said he could clearly see moth-eaten holes in the fabric of her otherwise pristine white gown, evidence to young Fred that Sister was not nearly as concerned about what others thought of her as she was a living a life of devotion to the Word of God she preached.
Our founder and first president, Aimee Semple McPherson lived and served communities in downtown Los Angeles during the Great Depression. Along with trail-blazing evangelistic outreaches and media breakthroughs of her day, she understood the need for practical training in the Bible. She wanted everyday working people to understand how to study the Bible, how to share the gospel with neighbors and coworkers, and how to influence generations to live authentic Christian lives.
To that end, our founder established a Bible institute for training laypeople for day-to-day ministry in the workplace. Her initial vision was not to train pastors for local church leadership but instead to prepare men and women to be ministers wherever they went throughout the community.
Sister McPherson was ahead of her time and extremely flexible when it came to adapting the delivery system for the culture. She changed the name of the Bible institute as many as five times in her lifetime because the needs around the ministry had changed. Regardless the name, she strove for a high quality educational experience using contemporary collegiate terminology, assigning course titles, hiring professors, and emphasizing practical Christian service. The latter was exemplified by using medical professionals to teach classes on medical ministry for the mission field.
Sister always taught some of the classes personally and I cannot imagine how she did it considering the many other obligations that were expected of her. In those days, the daily operations of the college came under the direction of Dean Harriet Jordan who managed everything from enrollment to graduation.
Many years after the founding of the Bible institute, Sister McPherson saw the needs around her changing once again. To address a growing need for “branch Foursquare churches,” she shifted the direction of the college to be a training institution for local church pastors and leaders. She created a contagious buzz as each class carried a distinct name and identity throughout their training.
Throughout her life, Aimee Semple McPherson was known as the “founding president” of our beloved institution. I can only imagine the joy in her heart to know we once again have a dynamic, visionary female president at the helm.
Rolf K. McPherson, The Builder-President
Rolf K. McPherson, our founder’s son, assumed leadership of our Movement’s flagship school after his mother’s death. Sister was overtly gregarious and a dynamic evangelist, while Rolf was introverted and methodical. I think of them as the tortoise and the hare from Aesop’s Fable. Rolf moved slow and steady, like the tortoise, and could sometimes micromanage details of the ministry. That being said, he also allowed our Movement of churches to grow enormously and local leaders to thrive without looking over their shoulder to see what their superiors might expect of them.
As president of Life Bible College (its name at the time), “Dr. Mac” as he was affectionately known, grew the college more as a general contractor might build a house. While we never saw him swing a hammer, we could see his fingerprints all over the expansion and building of the college. He managed the big picture and appropriately was always present at Convocation and Commencement with words of wisdom and encouragement for students and graduates.
Like his mother, Dr. Mac fully empowered primary operating officers to keep the engine running at the college. Several deans held this position during Dr. Mac’s tenure, perhaps one of the most notable being Dr. Clarence Hall who cared for students deeply and could teach the Bible like no one else.
Dr. McPherson was a remarkable man and just what Life Bible College needed in a president at that time. He allowed faculty and staff the latitude to lead effectively and he was deeply committed to the college that his mother began in the 1920s. Mt. Vernon Bible College in Ohio opened in the 1950s to better serve the growing student population closer to their East Coast homes. Until 1973, graduating from Life Bible College or Mt. Vernon Bible College was the single doorway for a ministerial candidate to become ordained or to be appointed as a pastor of a local Foursquare Church.
Nathaniel Van Cleave, The Theologian-President
Nathaniel Van Cleave became the first fulltime president of Life Bible College in 1976-77, ending a challenging season of transition to meet an accreditor’s recommendation. The two-year interval between Dr. McPherson and Dr. Van Cleave brought a one-time position to the forefront. Don McGregor was appointed as Executive Director of the college, a position created for the unique season and never again used at the college.
For the first time in the institution’s history, someone other than a McPherson led Life Bible College. The huge transition required a leader with gravitas and stature, and Dr. Van Cleave had both. His books on theology and preaching are still considered vibrant and relevant and are referenced in courses today.
Dr. Van Cleave, who only served one year as president, led Life Bible College late in his ministry career, having also served as a senior pastor, district supervisor, board member, and denominational vice president. Appointing Dr. Van Cleave as president was a brilliant decision considering his prestigious reputation and love for the Foursquare Movement and Life Bible College.
Jack W. Hayford, The Entrepreneur-President
Probably the most famous president at Life Bible College since our founder, Dr. Jack W. Hayford challenged us to view the Kingdom of God as present and active in the world around us. Our Movement was being influenced by the Charismatic renewal and Pastor Jack was being influenced by Dr. Van Cleave’s personal recollections of Sister McPherson’s ministry and leadership.
Beyond the personal influence of Dr. Van Cleave, Pastor Jack met his beloved wife, Anna while the two were students at Life Bible College in the 1950s.
As president, Pastor Jack brought the Charismatic Movement to Life Bible College and challenged students to invest themselves deeply and completely in lifelong Christian service. He also brought on board two remarkable leaders - Chuck Shoemake to serve as Executive Vice President and Daniel Brown to run marketing and communications for the college. Both of these men did a marvelous job supporting Pastor Jack’s vision for the college at a critical juncture of faculty that represented both classic Pentecostalism and a contemporary movement of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Jack brought wide recognition of Life Bible College across the greater Body of Christ. He developed state of the art media resources for pastors and leaders that still mark the development of men and women today at Life Pacific University, and will for generations to come.
Jack Hamilton, The Courageous-President
Dr. Jack Hamilton served in the U.S. Army and upon discharge decided to train for ministry at Life Bible College. An amazing person and someone I call friend, Jack pastored a thriving congregation in Central California before becoming the fifth president of Life Bible College.
I call him courageous because he dared to suggest that the college find a new home outside of Echo Park. The idea of moving away from the location where Sister had planted the college did not sit well at the time with many of the alumni and Foursquare leadership. With the help of several donors and a multimillion-dollar contribution in hand, Jack had the money to back his vision for a new home with plenty of room to grow and expand the college. All arguments paled in comparison and in spite of hesitancy from the denomination, Jack moved the college to San Dimas.
Years later, after Jack Hamilton’s tenure as president, The Foursquare Church granted property in San Dimas to the college in recognition of his vision, tenacity, and courage. For such a time as this, Dr. Hamilton followed the leading of the Lord even when it wasn’t popular so that the college we love could grow into what it is today.
Ron Mehl, The Role Model-President
The second-shortest presidential tenure at Life Bible College (1992-94) belongs to Dr. Ron Mehl, nationally recognized author, beloved pastor of the Beaverton, Ore. Foursquare Church, and one of Foursquare’s greatest leaders.
He assumed the presidency at a time when the Foursquare Movement needed a high-profile leader for its college who could attract college students and their families. People recognized Ron for his character, integrity, and godly values. They knew him as a role model that their students should follow and emulate.
Ron and his wife, Joyce, had long served the students, faculty, and staff as role models and benefactors. Royalties from Ron’s books provided much of the necessary money to advance the college in ways other presidents could not. When the volleyball team needed new uniforms, Ron made sure they got them. When new dormitories needed furnishings and artwork for the walls, Joyce and the ladies of the Beaverton congregation made the trip to Southern California and outfitted the public spaces in spectacular fashion.
Dr. Dick Scott was executive vice president and ran much of the operation as he and Ron took Jack Hamilton’s dream for a San Dimas location to new heights. Dick and Ron transformed the physical plant from plain to stunning. Campus visitors then and now often comment that they rarely see a college campus with such beauty.
Dick Scott, The Missionary-President
A natural transition occurred as Dr. Dick Scott assumed the presidency and led the college for the next 10 years. He operated the school somewhat like a mission field, a world with which he was well familiar having built a medical mission facility in the Darien province of Panama with the blessing and full cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An expert linguist, Dick also worked as translator of the Bible in the Emberá language of the Choco Indians in Panama.
As president, Dick Scott used his working knowledge of the world and his extensive field experience as a missionary to expand the college into an institution that would reach beyond. He was the first to propose a name change from Life Bible College to Life Pacific College. For that recommendation, Dick took quite a bit of heat at the time. Still, he persevered knowing that our founder showed flexibility in meeting the needs of the culture without allowing the culture to shape the college.
Dan Stewart, The Pastor-President
Life Pacific College was ready for a president who could pastor the faculty, staff, and students into a new era of academic preparation. Dr. Dan Stewart was the man for the job as he instilled the criticality of doing ministry as a pastor. As long as I have known Dan, he has had students shadowing him throughout his day. When he serves as interim pastor in a local congregation, students accompany him and participate in whatever task might surface.
Dan demonstrates how to lead a local church in the context of a local church. Even in retirement Dan serves as professor emeritus and still pulls in the highest evaluations in the courses he teaches. For decades, he has led student teams to the mission field where they literally construct church buildings and deposit leadership skills in the pastors who will lead congregations in those buildings. He holds a special place in the hearts of students he has influenced as a pastor, a mentor, and president.
Robert Flores, The Students-First-President
Students have always held a preeminent place in the thoughts and oversight of our presidents, but none with such focus as Robert Flores. Prior to Robert’s tenure as president, student life focused more on requirements of volunteer service in a local church.
He recognized the challenge of college staff being able to uniformly monitor student progress and suggested a new paradigm in how we serve students and mentor them in Christian service opportunities. Robert also identified the importance of providing strong student development opportunities on campus especially for freshmen and sophomores.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in Robert’s legacy as president is the initiative to reach out to students of color in our traditional, on-campus academic programs. Because of his emphasis in this direction, and the influence of his leadership on those who have followed him on campus, our San Dimas campus today reflects the diversity of our community with nearly 70% that are students of color.
Jim J. Adams, The Turn-Around-President
(Contributed by LPU Board Chair Michael Whyte)
Considered by his peers to be an approachable, dynamic leader and a brilliant academic, Dr. Jim J. Adams became the tenth president of Life Pacific at the crossroads of the college becoming Life Pacific University.
In the early years of his presidency, President Adams brought financial stability and strengthened infrastructure with his keen knowledge of the higher education landscape. Adams effectively led the campus to an 8-year reaffirmation with WASC accreditation, through implementing best budgetary practices, increasing shared governance, and bolstering enrollment. He also relaunched intercollegiate athletics, adding a renewed vibrancy to the culture of the institution.
LPU Board Chair Dr. Mike Whyte states, “President Adams is visionary, Spirit-led, and focused. Faculty, staff, students, and friends of Life Pacific regard him highly for his deep loyalty to his alma mater, his commitment to Foursquare Heritage, and his courage to expand the educational opportunities at the institution, making a way for more students to ‘serve God in the church, the workplace, in the world.’”
President Adams dared to “Dream Big and Bold” in efforts to design and develop new curriculum, multiple majors, and multilingual graduate programs that would eventually transition Life Pacific College from a one-school Bible college to a two-school biblical university.
Angie Richey, The Visionary-President
“11” as I like to call Angie Richey, has a legacy yet to be written as president of Life Pacific University. She is a leader that clearly articulates and promotes vision and inspires those she leads to completely embrace that vision. She is savvy in social media, a published expert in the emerging generation, reaches local congregations with sincerity, and speaks passionately with staff and faculty.
Following the exhortation of Habakkuk 2:2, Angie makes the vision clear, concise, and compelling. With Christian higher education at a sensitive crossroads across America, the skill she possesses and her ability to lead the university at this critical hour make her an outstanding choice as president. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes and the many ways God will continue to write the history of Life Pacific University under her leadership.