Lincoln College inaugurates Dr. David Gerlach as its 22nd president

Lincoln College Inaugural - Slideshow

[November 10, 2015]  LINCOLN - On Sunday, November 8, 2015, Dr. David Gerlach was inaugurated as the 22nd president of Lincoln College. The inauguration ceremony theme was "Lincoln College Through the Years: Embracing Our Past, Empowering Our Future." Several speakers talked about the College's great past and bright future as it enters into a new era.

Robert F. Neal, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, introduced several past presidents and representatives from other colleges. Neal said the inauguration of a president marks a transition that looks both backward and forward. It brings to mind the great history of the college that no other college shares beginning with the granting of the charter during Abraham Lincoln's lifetime. He said, "This inauguration is much more than a ceremony; it is a celebration marked by joy, thanksgiving, and hope."

Gerlach's father, Robert Gerlach, provided the Invocation. He described his son as "tenacious and persevering." Looking towards his son, Mr. Gerlach said, "your mother Janet would be extremely proud of you and bursting with joy." He said, "You learned care for others from your mother." Mr. Gerlach also thanked Dr. Gerlach's wife, Lisa, for helping him and being a blessing.

Robert Gerlach prayed that the Lord would "bless this institution and sustain it into the future as you have over the last 150 years. Grant dedication, growth, commitment, and wisdom, perseverance, harmony, and loyalty for all students, educators, staff, and decision makers" He prayed, "Guide Lincoln College at each and every fork in the road and bring success to every individual involved here now and in the future."

Greetings to the new president from the trustees, student body, and past presidents

Neal said, "we look back with gratitude to the many who have preceded us and brought us to this point." He also said, "At the same time, we look forward to a higher plane of excellence." Neal said that when they interviewed nine finalists for the presidency, David Gerlach made a passionate plea for change at Lincoln College because the times demand it. He said Dr. Gerlach sold the search committee with "his ideas and enthusiasm." Dr. Gerlach convinced the board to get into their endowments and "spend money on the institution and make it upright and ready for the next 150 years.
Mr. Neal said, Dr. Gerlach "sold the students with his convictions."

Neal said Dr. Gerlach puts Lincoln College on "firm ground for the next 150 years," and "great things are coming ahead."

Speaking on behalf of the student body, Student Government President, Alec Esparza said, Dr. Gerlach has already made an impact on students. Esparza says, Dr. Gerlach teaches students they have a voice not just on campus, but in life. He said the students see changes, they take pride in the campus, and they look up to Dr. Gerlach.

John Blackburn, 21st president of Lincoln College, spoke on behalf of all past presidents and said they understood the "enormity of the responsibilities of being president" as he congratulated Gerlach. Mr. Blackburn said the "opportunities, time demands, challenges, and risks" of being a college president were still fairly fresh in his mind. He said of all the roles he had in his working life, "college presidency was the most complex thing" he had ever been involved in.

Blackburn thanked Gerlach for "accepting the challenge of leading Lincoln College and taking it forward." He thanked Gerlach's wife for accepting of the demanding role of first lady. Blackburn said that many people in the area already know the Gerlach's as a "terrific addition to the Lincoln College family."

Blackburn said it is appropriate to culminate the festivities of the busy homecoming week and the 150th anniversary year by "inaugurating a president that will lead us to a better tomorrow." He said, "President Gerlach, we are glad that you are that person and that you have accepted the challenge." Quoting John Quincy Adams, Blackburn said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."

Blackburn then said to President Gerlach, "I wish to assure you that the people of Lincoln and of Lincoln College are inspired by your vision" and " we stand ready to learn from you and do whatever it takes to turn your vision into what the college will become." Blackburn challenged all employees at the school to support Gerlach with their best efforts, time, talent, and contributions to help lead the college to the highest potential.

In looking back at Lincoln College's past, the Lincoln College Chorale sang the Louis Armstrong hit, “What a Wonderful World” while a montage of photos showing the school's history played in the background.

Keynote address

Dr. Joseph Kennedy, retired President of the State University of New York (SUNY), Canton, and Gerlach's mentor, provided the keynote address.

Dr. Kennedy said students are part of a cycle, each degree is part of a cycle and the faculty are also on a cycle. He said both senior and new faculty "bring in a sense of renewal and a sense of hope."

Dr. Kennedy said his presidency started on census day when New York State counted new students and returning students. He said if the school had enough students, the year was easier, but if they did not have enough, his year was spent trying to make sure they had enough students for the next year.

Dr. Kennedy said Lincoln College is starting a new cycle of presidential leadership, as marked by the ceremony. He said Lincoln College is entering a new era as they possibly become Lincoln University. Dr. Kennedy said that like other institutions, colleges are either "going forward or going backward," so "every day you better get up and hope that this is the beginning of a new era for a new college." He said, it is "important for this leadership to be guided by the hands of someone like Dr. Gerlach."

Dr. Kennedy said he has studied failed presidents and "discovered that the do-nothing president is often more damaging to an institution than a spectacular failure," He said the "spectacular failure" usually gets 'taken care of,' but the "quiet, calm, conducting president can harm a college for years." Dr. Kennedy said Dr. Gerlach is not a "shrinking violet."

Kennedy said "today is the beginning of the Gerlach era" and that Dr. Gerlach is prepared for the challenge. Kennedy said that when Gerlach worked at SUNY, he asked him to find a dean of enrollment management. When Gerlach reported that the search had failed, Dr. Kennedy placed Gerlach in the position. He said Gerlach increased their enrollment of first year students from "640 to almost 1000." Also, the quality of the students increased during that time with high school averages increasing more than seven points.

Dr. Kennedy said Gerlach had many responsibilities during that time and Gerlach was also completing a challenging PhD program at Syracuse University. Gerlach was also able to get a residence hall built on state property without using state funding and he signed an agreement with the state to give it back to them after 35 years.

Dr. Kennedy said the revenue from that building added about $50 million to the college foundation during the 35 years it was to be used. He said that speaks to the kind of person Lincoln College has hired as president. Dr. Kennedy said that Dr. Gerlach is well prepared to be President Gerlach, a good person with a wonderful wife and wonderful family.

Dr. Kennedy said he is frustrated by trying to find a metaphor that fits being college president, He said calling it a "complicate, hard job" that is" twenty four/seven" does not do it justice. Dr. Kennedy said the Garth Brook's song, "Fever" about riding a bull describes what it is like to be a college president. He said a president has to hang on much longer than the eight seconds of a bull rider. He said one lesson of riding a bull is "to keep your mind in the middle, (dramatic pause) ... while your butt spins round and round."

Dr. Kennedy closed by wishing President Gerlach good luck and Godspeed.

Dr. Gerlach's Inauguration Address

Dr. Gerlach began the inauguration address by saying, "I am incredibly humbled and honored today" and "it is my hope and goal is to be a worthy leader as the 22nd president of this esteemed college." He said he wants to emulate those from his past who were found worthy in addition to the heroes from Lincoln College's past - such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert Latham, Anthel Freeman, Archelaeus Turner, Frank Hoblin, David Harts, R.E. Vandervorst, Raymond Dooley, John Gelbach, Dave Schnickey, and Jack Nutt.

Dr. Gerlach thanked Dr. Kennedy for his kind words and being a role model for him. He said Dr. Kennedy did so much for SUNY, as the school doubled in enrollment. Dr. Kennedy challenged him daily to deliver on student service, public relations, and fundraising. He taught him "academic pragmatism in that our focus needs to be on fighting winnable battles and giving up on efforts that will not help students."

Dr. Gerlach said he began his presidency a few months ago by trying to gain an understanding of Lincoln College's past. He said he saw resilience in the DNA of the faculty, staff, and this college during times of struggle quoting Lindstrom and Caruther's book, The Namesake College: "It was a time of struggle mutually shared, but during the depression days, the college slowly built up a tough heritage and a desire to see it through."

Dr. Gerlach said, "85 years later, I can still clearly feel that deep devotion towards success for Lincoln College." He then shared about some of the inspiring heroes of our past beginning with Abraham Lincoln.

[to top of second column]

President Lincoln "led this country through its most horrific time period and was more than resilient in the face of adversity," he said. "We should all be very proud to be affiliated with the only college named for this man while he was still living." Dr. Gerlach said, Abraham Lincoln "faced one difficulty after the next with a grand sense of purpose." He said President Lincoln knew the world was watching on December 1, 1862. He quoted the last words of Lincoln's speech as he spoke to Congress:

Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free --honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.

Dr. Gerlach said President Lincoln paid with his own life the greatest sacrifice and he is an incredibly worthy example for all of us by which to live and learn.

Embracing the past

Paraphrasing from the school's Centennial book, Dr. Gerlach said, "It is certain that Lincoln College's trial is not as great as that faced by Mr. Lincoln, but it is an honest trial that has been fairly met and fairly won." Dr. Gerlach said, "We now enter a second centennial and the future of the college has passed into the hands of others, us." He said, "the past is secured, has spun its web, and taken its beautiful place in history."

Recalling further back, Dr. Gerlach said Lincoln College's founding is directly connected to Abraham Lincoln's friend, Colonel Robert Latham, who helped found the city of Lincoln. When the Cumberland Presbyterian Church wanted to establish a university in the early 1860s, there were competing proposals from Lincoln, Illinois; Newburgh, Indiana; Mt. Zion, Illinois; and Cherry Grove, Illinois.

Dr. Gerlach said Colonel Latham took the initiative to land the college in Lincoln. In an October 1864 letter to church leadership Latham said, the "young and flourishing town of Lincoln as well as the young and prosperous County of Logan" did not have an institution of higher learning. Latham said, the town "would hail with joy and pride the location of your college in this place and would take a lively interest as well as commendable pride in fostering and endowing the institution."

Dr. Gerlach said Latham's letter included a "subscription list pledging the sum of over $30,000" and offering 10 acres of land free of charge. He said for many years, Latham promoted the good of the school, gave it a good name throughout the state, and was ready to lead in anything "calculated" to help the University. Dr. Gerlach said Latham was a worthy leader and is one he will try to emulate.

He also called David Harts as another good leader for all Harts did during his 18-year-presidency. He said Harts gave and gave and brought the college out of difficulties, with Harts even "paying faculty salaries out of his own pocket to keep the college going." Dr. Gerlach said Harts was interested in people and also "superior academic instruction as well as constant improvement in the physical facility." Dr. Gerlach called David Harts the spiritual father of Lincoln College known for temperance, humanity, and self-sacrifice. He said Harts is a wonderful example for all in support of Lincoln College.

He added Raymond Dooley, Lincoln College's longest serving president at twenty-three years from 1948-1971 had many buildings constructed and severed ties with Millikin University. Dr. Gerlach said the college exists today because Raymond Dooley "believed in the school, its mission, and its heritage." He said Dooley "pursued with great persistence and persuasion those who might help Lincoln College achieve its role in American education.

Dr. Gerlach said Lincoln College exists today because of Latham, Harts and Dooley's inspired leadership and he hopes to emulate them.

Dr. Gerlach's other inspirations

He includes Dr. Joseph Kennedy on his list of inspirational leaders. Looking over his shoulder, Dr. Gerlach addressed Dr. Kennedy saying, "You have left an indelible mark on me through your leadership, mentorship, and dynamic collegiate transformation."

Dr. Gerlach said his father, Robert, who served in the Navy and went to night school to become a lawyer, could fix anything. He said his father taught him and his two brothers to work hard and play hard. Dr. Gerlach said "my persistence, drive, and can do attitude also come from him."

Dr. Gerlach said his mother, Janet, she "tried to keep my crazy brothers and me in line with her passion, but her passion was in service, love and encouragement." She also made people feel important and taught him "compassion, empathy, and fun."

Dr. Gerlach said, "My wife, Lisa, since 2003 has sacrificed so much as I pursued this dream of becoming a college president." He said she supported him in many ways. "Lisa's peaceful and kind spirit has sustained me and my family for the years. Make no mistake, though, she is my greatest counsel, my balance, and love of my life."

Dr. Gerlach said that his dad, mom, and Lisa are "worthy examples of leadership for me to learn from."

In closing his address, Dr. Gerlach said, "The future of Lincoln College is very bright because we are building on a magnificent history of so many who gave of themselves for the past 150 years." He said, "As we progress back to our roots as Lincoln University by adding bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees while retaining the access mission of our associate degrees, we must all be like those mentioned today." Dr. Gerlach said we need to ask:

  • Are we serving students as we should?

  • Can we give more?

  • Are we transforming student's lives.

  • Are we making Lincoln College better for those who follow?

  • Are we among the worthy?

Dr. Gerlach said, "I hope I am."

Installation of the President of Lincoln College

Robert Neal gave Dr. Gerlach the charge by the Board of Trustees: "Carry out the responsibilities and obligations of your office to the best of your abilities." Neal said the presidential responsibilities obligation include "Supervision of high quality academic programs for the students who attend Lincoln College, the nurturing of those who create new knowledge, prudent oversight of the lands and facilities of the College, and sound financial management."

Neal then said, "Now, by the authority vested in me by the State of Illinois and the Lincoln College Board of Trustees, I am confirming you, David F. Gerlach as the 22nd President of Lincoln College with all the privileges, honors, responsibilities pertaining hereto."

Neal and Blackburn presented Gerlach with a treasured copy of the charter of Lincoln College.

John Blackburn also presented Dr. Gerlach with a medallion representing the Office of President. Blackburn said it was to be worn proudly at convocation, commencement, and other official events.

Everyone then sang Lincoln's College's song "Alma Mater," which references it cherished past, and has the refrain, "Lincoln College, alma mater; Now we honor true and kind."

Darren Palmer, Pastor of Faith Assembly and great-grandson of Arie Vanderhorst, 10th President of Lincoln College, provided the benediction. He said "there is such an incredible the sense of destiny in this room for the students, for Lincoln College, for all the faculty, and for the lives President Gerlach and wife Lisa." Palmer said, "We are so honored and blessed to have you in our city."

Palmer thanked God for the destiny that lies before the President in the next years at Lincoln College. He prayed that Dr. Gerlach would be filled with humility, steadfastness, honor, and character and thanked God for sending Gerlach for such a time as this.

Palmer prayed for God's "continued blessing through this next season on Lincoln College," that God's hand "would continue to guide the faculty and the staff," that "unity would be upon the school," and for "blessing, health, prosperity, and favor" on the President and his family. He prayed that as they bring forth ideas, that God would give them grace and lead them forward and that God's "hand of favor and blessing would rest upon President Gerlach and this school.

[Angela Reiners]

Back to top