There is a portrait of Eastern's first official president, Dr. Ruric N. Roark, hanging in the president's office at Eastern Kentucky University, overlooking the desk that I now occupy in the Coates Building.
Down the hall in a conference room are the portraits of the past presidents and the past members of the board of regents. I am now part of that honorable lineage.
Hopefully, I will be waiting for a long time to join the hall of past presidents, but I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants as the 14th President of EKU.
Taking the helm of an institution like EKU means always putting the institution's future first. While presidents come and go, EKU endures and has for more than a century. It is a privilege and a joy to be the leader of an institution that will be here long after I'm gone and I will work tirelessly every day to make EKU the best it can be for as long as I'm entrusted with leading my alma mater.
I've hardly had time to contemplate what being named the 14th permanent president at the University that I love means in the long-term.
Since I was named interim president in December, I've been getting used to the enormity of this job. In March, at the same time our basketball team was making its first trip to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in several years, there was already talk of a virus coming to the United States. Not long after that, we were given a week to completely revamp living, learning and working on campus in response to a global pandemic.
I spent the summer with my team trying to figure out how to deliver on the Eastern Experience and bring our students back to campus this fall. This work was vitally important because the majority of our on-campus students wanted a real college experience and to return to their EKU.
Together, we formulated the Colonels Comeback Plan and implemented that plan, with the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff as one of our top priorities. We have worked countless hours to face the challenge that is COVID-19, and figuring out how the university can continue to operate during the time of a pandemic.
As we near the fourth week of the semester I am happy to say we're doing well. We have COVID-19 cases, but through the planning, preparation and hard work of so many we are managing with very little disruption and a great deal of optimism for this semester.
It is a challenging time, but we have endured many before.
I'm reminded of Dr. Roark's story and the story of Eastern Kentucky University's humble restart in 1906. The university, known then as Central University, that started with what we call the University Building in 1874, closed its doors in 1901. Walters Collegiate Institute, a boys prep school, occupied what constituted the campus at the time from 1901 to 1906.
With some legislative reform and a focus on education, in 1906 Dr. Roark was hired to restart what was then called the Kentucky State Normal School for the Eastern District. We had three buildings and seven faculty members.
By 1911, the home economics house, a home for the superintendent of buildings and grounds, Roark Hall, Sullivan Hall, and a power plant had been completed -- all at a then staggering cost of $164,481.64.
The Eastern reboot of 1906 didn't even quite get off the ground without some great adversity. Sadly, Dr. Roark didn't live to see the buildings he had planned even get finished. He died in April, 1909 in Cincinnati after three months in the hospital from "general breakdown from overwork," but was later likely confirmed to be brain cancer. He was just 49 years old. His wife Mary became our second president. The first diplomas awarded in 1909 proudly bear her signature.
I tell that story because we know that Eastern lasts beyond any single leader, and when my history with the university is written, the goal is for it to always be reflected that we have worked hard to make sure the EKU mission continued beyond any challenges we might face.
It's a huge job, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to lead our University through this challenging time.