Fred Moore is leaving a very impressive legacy at Buena Vista University


STORM LAKE, Iowa, May 24, 2017 — Back to campus.

While the Cullens, publishers of the Storm Lake Times, have been in New York City collecting their recently-announced Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, they asked a few old pals from journalism if we’d help fill-up an edition of the Times in their absence.  And when Editor Art Cullen suggested that I “write something about Buena Vista U,” I was quick to accept the assignment.

You don’t have to ask me twice to visit a college campus, especially this time of year, especially beautiful BVU on the lakeshore.

Some of you know that I’ve long called myself “the eternal sophomore,” reflecting my love for all things collegiate.  I made it a practice in my 26-year career as a columnist with the Des Moines Register to hang-out on college campuses across the state.  I’ve continued doing that in retirerment.  Let’s see, that means I now have about 45 years of college-watching on my curriculum vitae.

And BVU has earned a special place in my heart

My favorite high school English teacher, the late Carl Adkins, wound up on the BV faculty in the mid 1970s. I started visiting Adkins, who introduced me to then-new President Keith Briscoe, and Briscoe channeled all kinds of column ideas to me as he transformed the college.  My son Andrew Offenburger picked BV as his alma mater, and that drew me here frequently from 1994-’98.  In that time, I covered Briscoe’s retirement as well as the 1995 arrival and inauguration of President Fred Moore.


At the right, President Fred Moore of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.

In 1999, Moore hired my wife Carla Offenburger and me to join the faculty and staff, and we had a terrific five years as Storm Lakers.  The two of us and our faculty colleague Rick Lampe, a BV graduate, helped resurrect the forgotten “Buena Vista Fight Song,” can still sing it, and we try to get to Beaver games a few times each year.

All of that put me in Fred Moore’s office bright and early on a recent morning.  I asked him for an hour’s chat so we could reflect on his presidency as he gets ready to retire in June, to be succeeded by Joshua Merchant, who is moving in from the University of North Florida. Moore readily consented to an interview, but added, “I hope we can focus more on BVU than yours truly. Presidents come and go. It’s the institution that remains.”

I do believe the 61-year-old Moore is now the longest-tenured president at BV.  He’s leaving June 8, “about 3 ½ weeks short of 22 years,” he says. Henry Olson is credited in most listings as having served as BV president from 1931 to 1953, but when you closely read former professor William H. Cumberland’s authoritative “History of Buena Vista College,” you see that Olson was actually “acting president and business manager” from 1931 to ’33.  Briscoe, by the way, served 21 years, from 1974 to ’95.

“Henry Olson, now there was a real icon!” said Moore. “I still marvel at what he and a few other people of that era did to save this college” during the Great Depression. “If they hadn’t been successful then, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation now.”

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One of several Beaver sculptures on the campus is seen here through one of the many arches that mark the entrances to the university.

Fred Moore’s own impact on the institution has certainly been significant.

In my view, among his most important accomplishments:

–At his inauguration in 1995, he surprised many in the crowd by announcing that BV would “offer our students enhanced opportunities for spiritual reflection in the context of a diverse and ecumenical student body,” including strengthening the ties with its founding Presbyterian Church and hiring a full-time campus chaplain for the first time in a couple of decades. That came at a time when many colleges that had been founded as church-affiliated schools were dropping those ties.  It’s had a positive, long-term effect on BVU students and alumni. “I happen to be a person of faith, and I’m married to an ordained minister,” Moore says now, of his wife Rev. Susan Moore. “But what I proposed for BV back when I started wasn’t what I thought was right for my life, but rather what I thought would be right for our students. I recognized that our students back then came from very diverse faith backgrounds, and some had no faith. I felt that church-related institutions had not only an opportunity, but really an obligation, to raise questions about ethics, morality and values for our students. We’d do this not in a doctrinal way, but in an intellectual way, with the goal of trying to help students learn to lead values-centered lives.” Now, 22 years later, he enjoys the knowledge that BVU Chaplain Ken Meissner has been voted “Staff Member of the Year” five different times by the BVU students, and when you see Meissner around campus, he usually has a flock of students surrounding him.

–Moore led BVU to become a national leader among colleges and universities in adapting wireless and universal internet access, and not just for communications but in teaching and learning, in and out of the traditional classrooms. In the year 2000, it became the first “wireless laptop campus” in the U.S., with all students, faculty and nearly all staff being assigned laptops with 24/7 connectivity all over campus, indoors and outside, too.  Academic delegations visited from across the nation to see how BVU had done it and how the system was being used. “I’m more of a technology user than any kind of expert,” said Moore. “I rely on people who are very good at it. On our technology initiative, it was Ken Schweller (professor of psychology and computer science) who foresaw that higher education was heading toward ubiquitous technology, that we were on the cusp of having completely wireless technology, and that’s where we should head.  I just kept asking the questions that I thought needed to be asked. I remember talking to Ken Clipperton, our technology director then, when we were getting ready to turn on the new system and saying, ‘Ken, is this going to work?’ He said, ‘Well, Fred, I think so!’ It did. We were the first (college) to go completely wireless all over campus, and it changed the institution.”

–With assistance from staff and board of trustees members, Moore raised more than $100 million for BVU.  In his 1995 inaugural address, he said “we must think, long term, of tripling the university’s endowment,” which stood then at $70 million.  It wound up doubling on his watch, and it might well have tripled except for the national economic calamaties from 2001 to 2008 or so.  He also successfully broadened the board’s membership, while maintaining strong participation from Storm Lake leaders. “I love raising money,” Moore said. “I always have. I know many do not.  And I’ll say that if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be a college president today. What I really enjoy about it is the association it’s given me with philanthropic people.  They tend to be interested in big ideas that are outside of themselves, and they have a genuine wish to improve the human condition. That makes them very interesting people to be around. A second reason I like raising money is, it’s my nature to be an advocate, and I’ve really enjoyed advocating for our students, faculty and staff.  It’s given me energy.”

–He oversaw the development, building and/or renovation of every building on the Storm Lake campus.  The most important of those was probably the $27 million Estelle Siebens Science Center, which opened in 2004 and gave BVU important new credibility among science faculty and science students nationwide.  I believe the magnitude of that project also inspired and emboldened the community of Storm Lake in developing the fantastic King’s Pointe Waterpark Resort, which opened in 2007.

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This bust on the campus honors the late Harold Walter Siebens, the international entrepreneur who had family roots in Storm Lake. His own donations and later gifts from several other members of his family saved struggling Buena Vista College in the 1970s, and then challenged it to become the innovative university it is today.  Siebens’ den is re-created on the campus, and students often rub his nose on this bus “for good luck on exams.”

As he hands off leadership of the university, Moore calls it “an exciting place, a dynamic place. I was captivated by it.”

He said after meeting his successor Merchant, “I think he’s going to come in with a tremendous amount of energy and vision, and a strong sense of marketing, which will be important.  My interactions with him have been very good. I’ve told him that in a couple weeks, I’m out of here.  I’ll always be willing to provide information, if I’m asked, but I will not interfere.  It’s time for new leadership.”

Moore was only 39 years old when he became BVU president.  When he thinks back on that now, what occurs to him?

“All the mistakes that people had to put up with,” he said, shaking his head. “I was 39 years old, I’d only been in higher education for 4 ½ years, and I’d never lived in the Midwest.  I sure had a lot to learn.  But I had a wonderful executive team around me – Keith Briscoe had hired them all – and the faculty & staff were kind and patient with me.”

He grew up in the small, North Carolina coastal town of Beaufort.  He earned bachelor, MBA and law degrees at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He was practicing law when Les Garner, one of his UNC business school professors, contacted him. Garner had become president of  North Carolina Wesleyan College, and invited Moore to join him as vice-president and general counsel.  Interestingly, in the summer of 1994, Garner was hired to become president of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Ia.  A year later, he nominated Moore when he learned that BVU was starting a presidential search to replace Briscoe.

“You meet a few people in your life who, even though you don’t realize it right at first, wind up changing your life,” Moore said. “Les Garner has been one of those people in my life.  He’s been a real mentor.”

Garner, who served 16 years as president at Cornell, for the past seven years has been CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.

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A Beaver, in academic gown and wearing a mortar board, is featured in this tree sculpture on the BVU campus.

Moore said that until he was nominated for the BVU job, he’d never heard of the school and had never been in Iowa.  “My only experience with the Midwest at that  point was when my brother got married in Kansas a couple of years earlier,” he said. “It was 27 degrees below zero when I was there, and I thought, ‘Who in their right mind would live in a climate like this?’

“But things happen in life and, the next thing you know, you’ve fallen in love with a place and it’s become home.  Storm Lake will always be home to the Moores,” even though they’ve now scattered.

Fred will be joining his wife Susan Moore, who has preceded him to their new home in Del Ray Beach, Fla.  There they’ll be closer to their son Stephen Moore, 27, who for more than three years now has lived and received excellent care for his autism and behavioral challenges in a facility in Mount Dora, Fla.  Their daughter Allison Moore, 29, works in marketing and public relations in Phoenix, Ariz.

In July, Fred Moore will begin working with AGB Search, a firm that finds and places executives for higher education institutions across the nation.  BVU has used AGB to fill several top positions over the years.

Moore has served us long and well.  And he now takes a high place in the history of this university that has such a hold on so many of us.

Five more quick hits with Fred Moore


When former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was the guest for the 1998 “William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture” at Buena Vista U., he opted that instead of speaking, he would sit for an interview and conversation, and the interviewer was BVU President Fred Moore. (Photo from Buena Vista University)

TWO FAVORITE MEMORIES Moore will carry from his presidency were two interviews he conducted with the legendary guests during the university’s showcase annual event, the “William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture.”  Those were with former CBS-TV News anchor Walter Cronkite in 1997 and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel in 1998, in front of huge audiences that included most of the leadership of Iowa.

“I’d grown up watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news,” said Moore.  “He was such an important figure in journalism.  So doing that conversation with him was a special thrill.

“Not to be overly critical,” Moore added in an aside, “I think professional journalists now would do well to look back and see how Cronkite approached the news.  He almost never made himself part of the story.  And the surveys back then said he was ‘the most trusted person in America.’ ” 

Israel’s Peres, Moore said, “was a peacemaker, but there was nothing weak or naïve about him. He was a tough, resolute man with big ideas about what peace and freedom could bring to the world.” 

WE CERTAINLY KNEW WHERE HE STOOD ON THIS.  When Carla Offenburger and I joined the BVU faculty and staff in 1999, Fred and Susan Moore hosted a dinner for about a dozen of us who were new hires.  Fred suggested that, to share some of our nature, we should go around the table and each person “tell us something about yourself that will probably surprise us.”

We did. When it was Fred’s turn, he said, “Well, you already know that I’m the president here. But what you might not know is that I have three degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I hate people from Duke University.” 

Some of our new colleagues seemed shocked, but Carla and I loved it. In fact, I think I laughed inappropriately loud.

COMPETITORS.  About 15 years ago, the BVU Beavers were getting ready for a big football game, and the Board of Trustees were meeting on the campus.  That meant board member Bernie Saggau was here.  Saggau, despite his small size, had been a football star at BV in the late 1940s.  He went on to become executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, overseeing boys sports in the state, and he also became one of the best and most-inspiring speakers in the Midwest.  Moore invited Saggau to come with him into the Beavers dressing room pre-game for a pep talk. 

It was persuasive — hopefully as persuasive on the football players as it was on Moore. 

“Man,” Moore told me later. “Bernie was great.  I came out of there ready to hit somebody myself!”

ONE OF THE THINGS I ADMIRE MOST ABOUT FRED MOORE, and I told him this during our chat, is that for all the challenges that parenting son Stephen brought to him, I never heard him whine about it. Ditto for his wife Susan.  “It’s had its challenges, that’s for sure,” Fred said. “But we’ve gained a perspective on life that, while I never would have wished for it, we never would’ve had without Stephen. Besides that, he’s very popular in his community, he’s funny and he’s a real kick to be around most of the time. 

“And there’s another thing about this that Susan and I always remind ourselves — we still have our son.  During our time here, I’ve had colleagues who’ve lost children.  I can’t imagine losing one of your own children.  I don’t know how you’d get through that, but somehow people do.”

AND I ALSO LIKE THE SUIT HE WAS WEARING THE OTHER DAY.  When Moore walked into his office, he was wearing a very dapper, beige-striped seersucker suit.  I immediately complimented him on it. 

“Oh, old Southern lawyer, you know,” he said with a big grin. 

Bless his heart.

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A Buena Vista graduate’s license plate seen in a parking lot on the campus.

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