Missouri State remembers President John Keiser
The Missouri State University faculty, staff and students, past and present, mourn the loss of Dr. John H. Keiser, who passed away Jan. 19 at his home in Boise, Idaho, at the age of 79.
Keiser served as president of Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State University) from 1993-2005. Under his leadership, the university achieved its name change to Missouri State University in 2005 and gained its statewide mission in public affairs in 1995.
“Missouri State would not be the university it is today without Dr. Keiser’s vision and leadership,” said current President Clifton M. Smart III. “After many years and much effort, the university achieved its name change during his presidency. Dr. Keiser also made achieving our statewide mission in public affairs a priority of his tenure. The mission is what truly sets us apart in higher education.”
In 1993, Keiser was named the eighth president at Missouri State. In his first speech to campus, Dr. Keiser said that the university’s single purpose was “to develop educated persons” and declared “It’s a privilege to be a Bear.” He repeated both phrases often during his 12 years as president.
Before coming to Missouri State, Keiser was president at Boise State University from 1978-1993. Dr. Jim Baker, vice president for research, economic development and international programs at Missouri State, worked with Keiser at Boise State and came to Missouri State as Keiser’s chief of staff.
“Loyalty and integrity were core values for Dr. Keiser,” said Baker. “He had a huge impact on the way I see the world and on my leadership style. Dr. Keiser always said ‘You get paid to exercise judgment.’ He set high expectations for his leadership team and then trusted us to make good decisions.”
Paul Kincaid worked at Missouri State from 1986-2014 and directed university relations and governmental relations under Keiser.
“Dr. Keiser was different, because he had already been a president for 14 years before he came to Missouri State,” said Kincaid. “As a result, it was hard to throw him a curveball that he hadn’t seen already and, usually, knocked out of the park. He was comfortable in his own skin, he was very self-aware, and he had the courage of his convictions.”
He left his mark
During Keiser’s time as president, the number of graduate programs and graduate students nearly doubled. Facilities on campus were improved with the addition of Strong Hall, the Physical Therapy Building, Jane A. Meyer Carillon, Wehr Band Hall and Bear Park South on the Springfield campus, and Lybyer Hall and Melton Hall on the West Plains campus.
Keiser arranged to add important landmarks to the campus, including the Bronze Bear and the Citizen Scholar statues, and established the Bronze Bear Award to recognize outstanding contributions by alumni and donors. The China campus and extensive China program was begun during Keiser’s administration.
In his final year at Missouri State, 2004-05, Keiser helped celebrate the university’s Centennial, highlighted by the Centennial history book and the first Public Affairs Conference. He participated in every conference after his retirement to Boise and Pine, enjoying returning to the campus and greeting former colleagues.
Keiser will be remembered for his lasting contributions to the development of the university, his dry wit, his disarming candor, and his love and use of the English language.