SHAWNEE-Oklahoma Baptist University’s board of trustees accepted the retirement of President Mark A. Brister Oct. 12 during a special meeting on the university’s campus in Shawnee.
Brister announced his plans to retire effective Nov. 10 at the conclusion of OBU’s annual Homecoming. He made the announcement in a called meeting of the 33-member board. He has led the Christian liberal arts institution since Sept. 1, 1998.
“The time has come for me and my wife, Rhonda, to move to the next phase of our careers and lives,” said Brister.
“The last nine years have been among the most satisfying and enjoyable, and so it is with mixed feelings that we make this announcement.”
Brister was named OBU’s 14th president in April 1998 and assumed the presidency the following fall semester. His nine-year tenure is the third-longest in the university’s 97-year history.
“I’m enormously proud of the quality of education that OBU provides its students,” said Brister. “There is growing recognition nationally and internationally for the value of the liberal arts education found at Christian colleges. Our consistently strong showing in the U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review annual rankings has bolstered OBU’s reputation as a leader in providing that kind of educational experience. That reputation is due to the efforts of so many dedicated, committed people on our campus.
“While we will miss the energy and excitement of campus life, we are looking forward to new opportunities and challenges,” said Brister. “I plan to return to my first passion for writing, preaching, teaching and public speaking. Rhonda is looking forward to utilizing her expertise and interests in child development.”
“We are grateful for the love and support of so many students, faculty and friends of OBU,” said Brister. “We look forward to the future.”
“We will miss Dr. Brister,” said Jim Howell, chairman of OBU’s board of trustees. “His unbridled enthusiasm for education and for this university made him a wonderful ambassador for OBU. He has led OBU in significant endowment, land and building project growth. We are grateful for his vision and leadership. He will be missed, and we wish him and Rhonda the very best in the future.”
“I know I am joined by Oklahoma Baptists in expressing our appreciation to Dr. Brister for nine years of dedicated leadership to OBU,” said Anthony L. Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “He invested in the lives of our students and helped to expand and develop OBU as one of the great private colleges in America. We wish the best for him and Rhonda and pray God’s blessings on them. They are a gifted and godly couple, and God will use them greatly in the days ahead.”
During the meeting, trustees elected John W. Parrish to serve as the university’s interim president, effective Nov. 11. Parrish, OBU’s executive vice president emeritus, retired from the university’s administration in November 2002, after serving more than 38 years at OBU. He was executive vice president and chief financial officer from 1995 until his retirement.
One of Brister’s last official actions as OBU president will be participating in the dedication of the university’s new recreation and wellness center. He spearheaded the $10 million capital project-the largest in OBU’s history-as an effort to provide adequate fitness and wellness facilities for the campus community. The two-story structure on University Street is slated for completion in late November, with dedication on Nov. 9. In addition to the wellness facility, the university is completing projects in the $4.78 million Winning Spirit Campaign, including additions and renovations to OBU’s Noble Complex for Athletics, and construction of new intramural fields, a track complex and a baseball/softball complex.
During Brister’s tenure, OBU has experienced record annual support. The university’s endowment, which was approximately $60 million in the summer of 1998, is more than 50 percent larger today, standing at $93.7 million. The annual totals do not include around $2.8 million the university receives through the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Program support. The university has operated with a balanced budget throughout Brister’s tenure. The 2007-08 fiscal year budget is $35.4 million, up from $26 million in the 1998-99 year.
The university’s headcount enrollment for the fall 2007 semester is 1,607, up one from the fall 2006 headcount of 1,606.