PERU, NE – On Wednesday, April 20, Peru State College inaugurated its 34th president in its 155th year of operation.
Dr. Michael R. Evans, Ph.D., was formally installed as the College’s president. Evans began his service at Peru State on July 1, 2021.
Vice President for Administration and Finance, Jennifer Rieken, welcomed those in attendance, which included members of the State College System Board of Trustees, area mayors, representatives from Chadron State College (President Randy Rhine) and Wayne State College (President Marysz Rames), Southeast Community College President Dr. Paul Illich, College faculty and staff, and other distinguished guests. Honored guests included Dr. Evans and First Lady Joanna Evans’ twins sons, Miles and Dylan.
The First Lady provided the invocation which included a little history on the Quaker faith. Mrs. Evans asked that people take a moment of silence to reflect on the day.
The keynote address was provided by Dr. Greg Kelley, a media studies instructor at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto, Canada. Kelley and Evans were graduates students at the same time at the University of Indiana where they both were pursuing their doctorate degrees in Folklore.
Kelley started his talk by stating, “You already know Michael Evans is a notable scholar, award-winning teacher, skilled administrator. These are all facets of his professional self that you appraised closely when considering him as a candidate for this position. Congratulations to you all for making the right decision on that account.”
Continuing, Kelley talked of their days as co-editors of a modest publishing outfit called Trickster Press. He described their combined efforts which were fraught with many challenges. It was during that time Kelley learned of some of Evans’ literary pet peeves which related to scholarly research and writing.
Kelley asked the audience to sometime “sit down with Michael in a quiet moment, in a comfortable chair and with a hot cup of tea and you’ll discover that he’s a gentle soul who is a great storyteller.”
It was shared by Kelley that Evans also has a playful, creative side as noted by the costumes which Evans and the First Lady wore to several different Halloween parties hosted by Kelley in Bloomington.
Kelley noted he had offered different vignettes and musings as a little sample of Evans. He said, “As I reflect on it today, the mosaic of remembrances I have about Michael shapes a tableau of intelligence, compassion, and kindness, with a little fleck of creative mischief.”
Concluding, Kelley stated, “Earlier I talked about Michael’s aptitude for wordsmithing and the craft of writing. In that arena, I can think of no better model than William Butler Yeats who once said that he was happy if he could write two lines of poetry a day. (Yeah, I’d be happy too if I could write a pair of lines that sounded anything like Yeats!) Astutely, on one of those days he penned this couplet: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”
Following the keynote address, Dr. Paul Turman, Chancellor of the Nebraska State College System, provided the introduction and investiture of Dr. Evans.
After a round of applause, Dr. Evans provided his inaugural address which follows in its entirety:
“Thank you, Chancellor Turman.
Students, Trustees, President Rames, President Rhine, faculty, staff, friends, and honored guests, thank you all for coming. And thank you, Greg, for taking the time to share some thoughts and memories with us today. It means a lot to me that you are here.
I don’t always get every decision right – And there are days when matching my socks is pretty much the pinnacle of my mental output. But four decades ago, I made the best decision of my life.
Joanna and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this May. And it has been four decades of adventure, and magic, and laughter, and love. And I would not be here without her support and her belief in me.
And as you heard, our sons Dylan and Miles are here. Joanna and I were blessed with two boys, now young men, who bring us enormous joy and great pride. They both have a wonderful spirit of adventure, they’re a lot of fun to be around, and they have bright futures ahead of them. Guys, I’m really grateful you’re here.
Now let’s look at Peru State College.
The Higher Learning Commission team that came here recently as part of our reaccreditation couldn’t keep themselves from talking about how impressed they are by this place.
I think they used the word “gem” a few dozen times.
They talked about how beautiful the campus is. How focused everyone is on the mission of student support and success. How collaborative the people here are, working together toward the best interest of our students.
Time and again, the team members said, “We don’t often see that.”
They recognized that Peru State College is a special place. They could feel the strong sense of community here, and they could see it in action. And we have a long and proud heritage, that spans a century and a half, of making a difference in students’ lives and making an impact on the world around us.
This is the Peru State College of Thomas Jefferson Majors, a Civil War hero who went on to serve in the Nebraska Territorial Legislature and ultimately became Lieutenant Governor, and who was one of the people instrumental in the founding of this institution.
This is the Peru State College of Anna Moorhead Joy, one of the two original graduates of this college, who dedicated her life to teaching. She became the first of five generations in her family to graduate from this College.
And of George Howard, the other original graduate, who went on to become the Chair of the History Department at Stanford University and then the Chair of the Political Science and Sociology Departments at the University of Nebraska—and who played a key role in the founding of the Nebraska Historical Society.
This is the Peru State College of John Miller, an African-American Civil War veteran who was also among the first students to attend this College.
This is the Peru State College of Robert Coatney, who led the program that developed the first treatment for malaria. And of Eleanor Reed, who graduated in 1882, went on to further her education at the Women’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago, and became a doctor. She returned to Peru and practiced medicine here for more than four decades, traveling throughout the region by horse and buggy with her white bulldog “Bos’n” by her side as she made house calls.
This is the Peru State College that fielded the football team of 1927, which that season outscored its opponents 359 to 7. (They allowed Kearney State to score one touchdown.)
And of Al Wheeler, who coached our basketball team to a conference championship in his first year and the football team to a conference championship in his second year—and went on to a long and very successful career leading Peru State athletics.
And football coach Lon Graf, who served from 1924 to 1929, during which time his teams won 49 games and lost 7.
And of Darrell “Dr. Victory” Mudra, Class of 1951, who played fullback here and went on to serve as the head football coach at Florida State and several other institutions. He was inducted into the national College Football Hall of fame.
This is the Peru State College of Jerry Joy, who served as athletic director and a host of other roles with great success, and who was instrumental in creating and leading The Dribble Drive, when more than 200 students and faculty and staff members dribbled a basketball from Peru to Lincoln to raise political support for the Al Wheeler Activity Center. (Also leading that effort was the President of the Student Governing Association, a dapper young man named Ted Harshbarger.)
This is the Peru State College of Lillian Stoner, a political science professor who was the first woman to run for Secretary of State in Nebraska.
And of Richard Barrett Lowe, who taught here and went on to serve as the Governor of American Samoa and then the Governor of Guam.
And of William Edmondson, Class of 1948, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under President Jimmy Carter.
And of Herbert Brownell, Jr., who served as U.S. Attorney General under President Eisenhower and played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education case and the desegregation of schools in Little Rock.
This is the Peru State College of Edison Pettit, Class of 1910, who went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and work as an astronomer at the Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories. There’s a crater on the Moon and a crater on Mars named after him.
This is the Peru State College of Joan Christen, Class of 1996, who became a teacher in Stella and Beatrice. In 2004, she was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage in Education. In 2011, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching—the highest honor bestowed by the United States government for K-12 teachers in science fields.
This is the Peru State College of Verne Chatelain, Class of 1917, who taught at Peru State and served as the first Chief Historian for the National Park Service. He went on to serve as a Research Associate for the Carnegie Institution and then as Administrative and Liaison Officer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
And of Robert Vernon Denney, who attended Peru State in the early 1930s and who served as a special agent in the FBI, then served in the Marine Corps, then served as the Jefferson County attorney and then the Fairbury city attorney, and then as the statewide Chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party, then he served in Congress, and then he served as a U.S. District Court judge. The courthouse in Lincoln was named after him by President Ronald Reagan.
This is the Peru State College of Marion Marsh Brown, Class of 1927, the author of 20 books who was named one of the ten most important writers by the National Council of Teachers of English. She also taught at Peru State, and her mother served at Peru State as dean of women.
And of English professor Dan Holtz, who in 1999 performed “Nebraska Through Song & Story” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and again on the Capitol grounds.
This is the Peru State College of Dan and Elaine Hanson, who have seen this College through a massive flood, hauling sand bags and distributing water bottles while at the same time providing the leadership and planning necessary to keep Peru State moving forward, and through a global pandemic, using science, strategic thinking, and quick action to keep the doors open and the classes in session.
And this is the Peru State College of the exceptional faculty and staff here today, people who are passionate about supporting our students and who have the talent and expertise to continue the fulfillment of the mission of this great College.
I could go on, but the point is clear: Peru State College is an extraordinary place, with an impressive history, and filled with people who care about each other and who get things done.
And now we are continuing to make things happen, continuing to make Peru State College the beacon we know it can be. A place where students of all backgrounds can come together to learn, to grow, and to launch the lives they dream of living.
Peru State transforms students’ lives, and it gives them the knowledge, the skills, the courage, the curiosity, and the confidence to grab that diploma, go out into the world, and be the people they dream of being.
And for that, and so much more, I am honored, humbled, and inspired to serve as the 34th President of Peru State College.
We have a lot of work to do, but it is great work.
And the staff and faculty of Peru State College today are exactly the right people to carry this legacy forward.
Following Dr. Evan’s address, Dr. Jesse Dorman, Vice President for Enrollment Management, provided the closing.
A reception was held in the Al Wheeler Activity Center following the ceremony. The Peru State College Pep Band, under the direction of Dr. Josh Roach, provided music for the reception.
The 34th Presidential Inauguration was hosted by Peru State College and the Peru State College Foundation.