Richard Celeste, president and chief rainmaker at Colorado College, ends his tenure in June after nine years on the job.
During that time he not only created closer ties with the community, but also raised $200 million for such things as capital improvements and scholarships to help disadvantaged and minority students.
Steve Schuck, an education activist, explained the mixed emotions many feel about his parting:
“It’s like seeing your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new car. It’s a loss for Colorado College. But it frees him up to do more things at the community level, which will be very beneficial to Colorado Springs.”
Celeste and his wife, Jacqueline Lundquist, will be honored at the Partners in Service Awards reception at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Cornerstone Arts Center, hosted by CC’s Business and Community Alliance, a volunteer board of business and nonprofit leaders in Colorado Springs who serve as ambassadors for the college. The event is open to the public.
Celeste will preside over his last Colorado College commencement exercises and reception on May 23.
Jill Tiefenthaler, provost and professor of economics at Wake Forest, will become the college’s 13th president July 1.
The question being posed these days is what will Celeste do next?
He has no exact answer to that, saying, “Serendipity has been very good to me.”
He is a member of several corporate boards, has several grandchildren and hobbies that include bicycling and reading not only scholarly works, but escapist mysteries by Elmore Leonard.
He also is very good at making blueberry pancakes and grocery shopping. But that is not going to be the extent of it, he says, considering his number one hobby has always been his work.
“It will be an interesting challenge. He is used to running big and complicated things,” Lundquist said.
She works with Waterhealth International and has written a book based on her father’s letters from Vietnam during the war.
She predicts Celeste will write a leadership book interspersed with tales about his various careers: director of the U.S. Peace Corps from 1979-1981, governor of Ohio, 1982-1990, managing partner for an economic development consultancy, 1991-1997, and ambassador to India, 1997-2001.
Celeste brought that expertise and energy to his work at Colorado College, Schuck said.
When Celeste took over the presidency, Shuck said, the college’s “town and gown” profile had diminished.
“He worked hard to create the synergy between the college and community. His involvement on many levels has helped the process of building that connction.”
Celeste was president of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership, the Colorado Economics Future Panel, the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the Colorado Forum, which tackles public policy issues.
PamShockley-Zalabak, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs said that Celeste is known for his engagement of students.
“Often when I talked to him on a business matter, he would be at the student center with its music blaring. That was because he has open office hours for students there.”
Celeste said the best part of his job has been the students, and that by far, the worst moments at CC, have been student deaths. “We’ve had several, and it is hard.”
Celeste has weathered a few controversies over the years, including a call for his resignation by a Jewish group upset over the college inviting a high-profile Palestinian to give a lecture.
Celeste didn’t back down. “You can’t please everyone. It was important academically to give balance,” he said.
The college at times has been criticized for lack of diversity in the student body. Numbers improved under Celeste from 14 percent minorities to more than 18 percent. “It needs to be 25 percent or more,” he said.
William Hybl, chairman and CEO of the El Pomar Foundation and a CC board member, lauds Celeste’s work.
“He has been easy to work with, is certainly tenacious in fundraising and has brought good leadership to the institution in sports and academics, and international dimension to the community and college.”
• Addition of 20 tenure-track faculty positions
• Significant increase in the size of the student applicant pool, from 3,533 in 2003 to 4,455 in 2010.
• Improved student retention and graduation rate.
• An increase in selectivity, with 55.9 percent of applicants accepted in 2003 to 33.3 percent accepted in 2010.
• Major renovations of campus buildings, including Palmer Hall, Cossitt Hall and Packard Hall; construction of the interdisciplinary Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center.
• Historic preservation renovations, including Arthur House, Cossitt Hall, Cutler Hall, Jackson House, Lennox House and Spencer Center.
• Significant strides on sustainability, including LEED certification for Tutt Science Center and Cornerstone Arts Center.