Thanks to Dr. Dan Lambert, former President of Baker University, Walter Pinnell, former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Baker University and Jerry Weakley, former Vice President of Development of Baker University, for their review and comments on this article. The article could not have been written without their knowledge of over 20 years of Baker's history.
Dan Lambert was born along with his twin brother, Dennis, on January 16, 1941 at St. Vincent Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. St. Vincent no longer exists, but it was located on 23rd Street between Walrond and College Streets and was only a few blocks from the family home at 2451 Agnes. Dan’s parents were Paul and Della Mae Lambert. Dan and Dennis were the youngest of 4 children in the family which included the oldest son, Paul Jr, and sister, Donna Mae. Dan is proud of being a “true Kansas Citian” having spent the most of his youth living in the heart of the city and in the same neighborhood.
Dan’s father, Paul Sr., was born in Wichita, but his family moved to the Kansas City area shortly after his birth. He was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth and graduated from Manual Vocational High School in Kansas City. After graduating, Paul married Della Mae, who also graduated from Manual, and Paul became a truck driver for Armour Meat Company. Shortly after Dan was born, Paul Sr. “got religion” in Dan’s words and was ordained in 1942. He became pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church and then pastor of the historic Benton Boulevard Baptist Church where Harry Truman was baptized. In 1954, he became Assistant Superintendent of the Kansas City Baptist Association and in 1977, he retired as General Superintendent. From 1978 to 1990, he was Director of Denominational Services and Adjunct Professor of Church Administration at Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary. Along the way, he attended William Jewell College and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as a representative to a number of local, national and international organizations and was Chairman and Vice Chairman of Billy Graham’s Kansas City Crusade in 1967 and 1978. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from William Jewell in 1976. He died in 2001 and was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Della Mae, in 2000.
Dan attended public schools in the inner city until his father’s job brought the family to Ruskin Heights and Dan began his studies at Ruskin High School. Dan played football, was manager of the basketball team and participated in track. He was a member of the student council for three years and was vice president his junior year and president his senior year. Dan was in the choir and president of the choir his senior year and he was in the Honor Society for 3 years. During their time in Ruskin Heights, the family witnessed the devastation brought on by the massive tornado that leveled much of Ruskin Heights and Hickman Mills in May of 1957 and Dan worked with the Red Cross that summer to help in the recovery effort of those communities. Ruskin High School was brand new when it was destroyed, but a new one was built in its place.
Dan and Dennis followed their older brother and sister to William Jewell College. Dan majored in Psychology with a minor in English and was active in a variety of extracurricular activities: Aeons Honor Fraternity; Who’s Who; the “J” Letterman’s Club; Captain of the Wrestling Team; Sophomore Class Vice President; Interfraternity Council; Commander (President) of the Sigma Nu fraternity for two years; Homecoming Committee Co-Chairman; Student Conduct Board; Tatler Revue Co-Chairman. Dan feels that the experience he had at William Jewell is similar to the experience students have at Baker and that the education he received prepared him well for the direction that his career would ultimately take. After graduating from William Jewell, Dan decided to pursue a master’s degree. He claims that he chose to attend Northwestern over University of Chicago because he thought it would be easier, but we all know that “easy” is not in the DNA of either school. In 1965, He obtained a degree in Counseling from Northwestern and while he was there, he served as an administrator and ran a residence hall at Elmhurst College, a school in the suburbs of Chicago that in many ways is similar to Baker.
He then decided to attend Harvard Divinity School. Dan believes that his time there was a life changing experience, in large part due to the people he met. Peter Gomes was one of his classmates. Gomes was a preacher, theologian and author. He became the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and Pusey Minister at Harvard's Memorial Church — in the words of Harvard's president he was "one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction." He received honorary degrees from a large number of universities and Baker was honored to have him as a speaker on one occasion. Dan was also a classmate of Joseph McVicker, the inventor of Play-Doh, who went to Harvard Divinity School after he sold the rights to his invention. While at Harvard, Dan worked on a research project focused on a group of teenagers and young men who all had criminal records, mostly for car theft. He and a few other students worked with a church in the area that was struggling. Dan and Joe McVicker were scheduled to manage the Christ Church Methodist in Wellesley for the summer after his first year until fate intervened – he was drafted into the Army in 1966.
Dan received his basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He had the opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School but decided against it because it would have extended his time commitment. Even though the Vietnam War was ramping up, Dan was assigned to duty in Germany. He soon discovered, however, that he was missing out on an opportunity for personal growth, and he petitioned the head of the medical services corps to become an officer knowing full well that it meant going to Vietnam. He immediately received a direct commission as a 1stLieutenant and was promoted to Captain within ten months. He initially worked as an administrative aide to a Major who was the Division Surgeon – a prestigious posting. When he went to Vietnam, he worked as an adjutant to a career Army officer named Bernie Mittemeyer. Mittemeyer went on to become a General and in 1981 was made Surgeon General of the Army. Dan was named Brigade Surgeon for the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. While you might suspect that being a “surgeon” would require extensive medical training, a brigade surgeon is more of a major administrative assignment responsible for the oversight of medical care for the brigade’s personnel. Dan feels that his military experience wa life changing as it enabled him to work with great people. And yes, being in the 101st meant he had to occasionally jump out of airplanes and being in Vietnam meant that he would come under fire from time to time.
Several incidents in Vietnam standout in his mind. One day, a Major asked Dan if he would like to join him on a forward air control (FAC) mission. Forward air control is the provision of guidance to close air support aircraft intended to ensure that their attack hits the intended target and does not injure friendly troops or noncombatants. FAC aircraft were propeller driven and had to fly within a mile of the close air support jets which put them in harm’s way. As they flew into the strike area, Dan could feel the heat from the napalm the close air support planes were dropping. Then he clearly saw an enemy soldier with an automatic weapon taking aim at their plane and the bullets started flying. They returned safely from their mission but upon inspection their plane had numerous bullet holes narrowly missing their intended target. On another occasion, Dan was in a bunker using a tape recorder to make a tape he intended to send to his brother, Dennis. When they came under fire all hell broke loose and Dan took cover forgetting to turn off the tape recorder. The entire firefight was recorded and gave a very real sense of what is what it was like to be on the front lines. Dan sent the tape to his brother who listened to it whenever he wanted to be reminded of what life was like in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the tape was not saved for posterity when it was accidentally taped over some years later.
Dan intended to return to Divinity school when his tour duty with the Army was over, but he received a job offer from William Jewell and was able to leave the Army early to take it. There was also another life changing event at this same time – marriage. Dan had known Carolyn Bright from Lee’s Summit as a friend while they were both students at William Jewell. They started dating while Dan was at Northwestern and continued seeing each other when they could while he was at Harvard and in the Army. Dan did not want to marry before he left for Vietnam. Dan and Carolyn were married December 27, 1969. As Dan tells it, he not only had a new wife and a new job, he also had a new car, a Pontiac Firebird, and a dog.
Returning to civilian life, Dan and Carolyn settled in at William Jewell. He spent 17 years there and held a number of executive level jobs including: Dean of Student Affairs; Executive Assistant to the President; Vice President for Planning and Development; and Vice President of the College. He also took the opportunity to get his PhD in Public Law from the University of Missouri Columbia. It was clear that he had gained the experience to become President of the College someday, but Dan’s opportunity never came. It was during this time that tragedy struck the family. Dan’s older brother, Paul Jr, had just been named as the head basketball coach at Auburn University when he died in a tragic hotel fire in Columbus, Georgia. His death took a toll on the family.
In his estimation, Dan stayed at Jewell three or four years too long. He had other opportunities to leave, but finally he was offered the job he could not pass up – to become the 27th President of Baker University. Dan was selected as the President after an extensive search process led by the Search Committee Chair, Jerry Holley of Topeka. He knew he would be supported by the strong leadership of the Board of Trustees which included Cecil Miller, Chairman, Jerry Holley, Vice Chairman, Sam Perkins, Executive Committee, Don Parker, Finance Committee Chairman, and George Blackwood Secretary. However, he was not aware of the precarious financial situation at Baker that he was walking into.
Baker had lost $3 million in the fiscal year which ended the day before Dan assumed the presidency on July 1, 1987 and Baker had borrowed the money to cover the operating loss from a local Kansas City banker. As he assessed the problem in a report to the Board, he concluded that there were several things that led to the deficit. “The University had budgeted for more income than was realistic for a school of our size”, explaining that income fell about $1.5 million short of projections. Another strain was $300,000 that was spent over a period of about 14 months, to hire a marketing and advertising firm. “It was a very good firm that we simply could not afford.” The cost of servicing the debt related to the new Collins Center also contributed to the problem. Dan presented a 3-year workout plan to the Board which included cost cuts and a significant increase in applications from new students. The University also had taken out federal loans for different purposes. The debt service on these loans was another drag on the operating budget. Dan’s brother, Dennis, who was serving as an aide to US Representative Tom Coleman of Missouri, convinced Coleman to intervene on Baker’s behalf and Baker obtained a grant from the federal agency to relieve them of the debt.
Looking back on his time as President, Dan thinks that there were three phases. In the first phase, which lasted roughly three years, he had real concerns about the survivability of the University. While there was little good news during that time, there were some critical events that took place. Most notable among these was a series of gifts from Loreine Collins Dietrich. The Collins family had strong ties to Baker for decades. Loreine’s father, George Fulton Collins, graduated from Baker Academy in 1896 and from Baker University in 1899. George’s sister, Mary, graduated from the Baker Academy in 1901 and married Edgar Collins Moore in 1904. Edgar graduated from Baker in 1905 and became a Methodist minister. The George and Jennie Collins Foundation of which Loreine was a trustee had given a substantial amount toward the funding of the Collins Center which opened the year before Dan arrived at Baker. Loreine graduated from the University of Kansas in 1924 and eventually became Senior Vice President of Liberty Glass, the company her father founded in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Dan formed a strong relationship with Loreine and she grew to love and appreciate Baker just as her father had. The gifts she gave, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars, helped to sustain the University during the financially challenging early years of Dan’s Presidency.
The recovery efforts were aided by another fortuitous event. Eugene C. Pulliam had attended Baker Academy in 1904-06 while his father was on Baker’s Board of Trustees and was pastor of the Methodist Church in Baldwin. Pulliam went on to become one of the most influential journalists in the country having owned 47 newspapers during his career. Among several gifts the Pulliam family gave to Baker over the years, was a gift of stock in Pulliam’s company, Central Newspapers, that might have been done when Pulliam received an honorary LL. D. degree form Baker in 1958 or perhaps when Pulliam was named as Baker’s “Citizen of the Year” in the early 70’s. The gift was valued at $250,000 in Baker’s endowment, but because it was a privately held stock, its real market value was not known. Dan and Baker’s attorney, George Blackwood, decided they needed to investigate further. Pulliam had died in 1975 and Dan and George flew to the Indianapolis headquarters of Central Newspapers where the current management team indicated some interest in buying the stock for a little over $1 million. However, while there they met a man who was a broker and who expressed substantially more interest in the stock. Blackwood led the negotiations and turned down several offers while Dan and the Board waited anxiously hoping the that the deal would not suddenly disappear. Finally, Blackwood was able to recommend that Baker accept a bid of $5 million. $3 million of the proceeds were used to pay off the bank loan while $250,000 was restored to the endowment and the balance used to fund other needs.
The Pulliam gift allowed Baker to enter what Dan considered phase two when survival was no longer an issue, but substantial financial problems remained. While still battling budget deficit problems, Dan turned his attention to his top three priorities: increasing the University’s endowment, renovating campus buildings and evaluating the University’s educational programs. Renovation of Parmenter Hall (which was originally completed in 1871) was a top priority for Dan even though the Board had discussed that the building might need to be razed. Dan was able to raise $1 million to save the iconic structure. Essential improvements to Case Hall, Mulvane, the student residence halls and the cafeteria in the student union were funded by a $1.2 million bond issue. Joliffe Hall was also renovated and turned into a dormitory. The North Hall dormitory was so dilapidated that it had to be torn down, but the Horn and Markham apartments (named after two former Presidents) were built in its place to house upper class and transfer students. In 1995, Mabee Memorial Hall was completely renovated after $3.1 million was raised. Thanks to another gift from Loreine Collins Dietrich the President’s house was renovated which included a major addition of much needed meeting and banquet space.
Then there was the day in 1995 that Dan walked into a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and announced that he was planning to transport a chapel from England stone by stone to the Baker campus at a cost in excess of $1 million. The Trustees were taken aback considering that the school had only recently emerged from some of its financial difficulties. However, he went on to explain that he had been in discussions with R. R. Osborne, a banker, real estate developer and philanthropist from Olathe, who had years before donated the land upon which the current Mid America Nazarene University is located. Mr. Osborne initially committed $500,000 to the project and later upped his commitment to $1 million. The chapel in question was discovered in Sproxton, England by Dr. Dean Bevan, English Professor, who was teaching for a semester at Harlaxton in Grantham, England only a short distance away. Sproxton’s chapel was built in 1864 to house a thriving Methodist congregation, but it was shuttered in 1988 when its few elderly members could no longer support it due in part to the fact that another Methodist chapel had opened in a small village nearby. It took some drawn out negotiations, but the British Methodists and British preservationists were willing to part with the building if it were put to a religious use provided that Baker would agree to construct a park on the previous site of the chapel and maintain it for a 10 year period.
In the midst of the negotiations a new factor came to light – the Sproxton chapel had a link to Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and who became known as the Iron Lady of England after the Soviet press recognized her uncompromising politics and leadership style. Thatcher was born and grew up in Grantham and her father was a grocer and tobacconist who also served as a Methodist alderman and local circuit riding preacher. The Sproxton chapel was one of the local churches that he served. With the help of then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Charles H. Price II of Kansas City, Thatcher was invited to speak at the dedication of the rebuilt chapel, and she accepted. Of course, the chapel first had to be transported and Dan says that finding a company to do the heavy lifting was not difficult, but the transportation of the stained-glass windows proved to be the hardest part. Finally, after nearly five years of negotiation, planning and construction, October 23, 1996, the day of the dedication arrived, but not without some drama. The day before Thatcher was to arrive, the area was blanketed by a rare October 6 to 8-inch snowstorm. Fortunately, the weather cleared in the early morning hours and with temperatures in the 40’s the dedication day was beautiful if a little wet from the melting snow and the Clarice L. Osborne Chapel was indeed dedicated. Nearly 25 members of the Chapel’s former congregation from Sproxton attended the rededication service and there was a featured story on the move of the Chapel, it’s rededication and the visit of the former congregation members by CBS on it’s weekly show, CBS Sunday Morning.
Dan is especially proud of the major gift from Jim and Zibbie Ferrell which completely transformed the Baker campus. Dan points out that “not many people would give money to plant trees”, but the Ferrell gift allowed Baker to map out the future of the campus. Improvements included a stately grape arbor and a softly flowing stream, crossed by the Taft Bridge. The later addition of the Wildcat Cafe provided a gathering place for students, faculty, staff and visitors to the campus to gaze out over the Ferrell Green which was named in honor of the Ferrells for their major donation. In 2002, Baker kicked off a campaign to refurbish the University’s outdoor sports facilities including Liston Stadium and the football field. Thanks to another donation from the George and Jennie Collins Foundation and the Mabee Foundation the library underwent a $6.3 million renovation in 2001 and 2002 and was rededicated as the Collins Library in 2003.
Margaret Thatcher was not the only celebrity to visit the Baker campus through Dan’s years as president. In 1988, Vice Presidential nominee, Dan Quayle, gave a commencement speech and was accompanied by his parents James and Corinne Quayle. Corinne was the daughter of Eugene C. Pulliam after whom the Pulliam Center for Journalism and Communications on the Baker campus was named. In 1990, former President Gerald Ford spoke at Baker’s annual fall convocation and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Peter Gomes, a professor at Harvard and considered one of the great preachers of his generation, spoke at convocation in 2002. Gomes, as detailed above, was a classmate of Dan’s when they were both attending Harvard Divinity School. Other notables who visited Baker to speak in the Loreine Collins Dietrich Lecture Series included William F. Buckley, George Will and Jean Kirkpatrick, the first woman to serve as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations.
Baker’s endowment increased from $5 million to $32 million during Dan’s tenure. The increase was aided by a major $3 million gift from the estate of Edward Lin Harter and Sylvia Lloyd Harter to fund two endowed scholarships given annually which pay 100% of tuition for four years and allow for the opportunity to spend a semester at Harlaxton College in England. This is one of Baker’s most prestigious awards. Edward and Sylvia were graduates of Missouri Wesleyan College of Cameron, Missouri that closed in 1930. It was their decision that they wanted their estate to benefit Baker. Baker, who had been placed in charge of maintaining Missouri Wesleyan’s records and holding its annual alumni reunions after Missouri Wesleyan closed, had been able to provide a copy of Edward’s transcript very quickly upon request from the University of Texas and thus played an instrumental role in Edward getting a teaching job in Chemistry at that University where he spent his entire career. The Harter Union is named after them.
Moving into the third and final phase of Dan’s presidency, the University moved to aggressively pursue its educational programs, both on the traditional Baldwin City campus as well as the surrounding area of Kansas and Missouri. After extensive discussions with the faculty and the Board, the decision was made to create the School of Professional and Graduate Studies to be headquartered in Overland Park with branches eventually moving into facilities in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. Numerous new courses and majors were added as were new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. These programs included degrees in education, educational leadership, business and dispute resolution/conflict management. As this enterprise has continued to evolve and grow Baker also now offers a Ed. D in educational leadership. Over 1,700 students take classes in the School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Baker also founded its School of Nursing in 1991 in conjunction with Stormont Vail Regional Medical Center in Topeka (now Stormont Vail Health) where it offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing to over 200 students. Gradates in this program have ranked among the highest in passing of national nursing accreditation tests since the inception of the program.
Dan recruited and attracted numerous outstanding faculty members to the University’s already strong faculty, many of whom continue to teach at the University some 15 years after his retirement. The same can be said for having hired and then mentored outstanding administrative staff, two of whom Dr. Stewart Dorsey and Dr. James Troha, went on from their positions at Baker to become Presidents of outstanding U.S. Universities themselves.
While pursuing his professional career, Dan always received strong support from Carolyn. She graduated from Lee’s Summit High School in 1959 and William Jewell in 1963. Before coming to Baldwin, she worked in special education in the inner city. She and Dan had two children, Kristian and Dennis “Buzz”. When Carolyn arrived at Baker, she quickly settled into a role as the hostess of all events that come with the Office of President. She was a natural at event planning and she loved interacting with students, faculty and alumni. She was heavily involved in the design and renovation of the Collins House. Carolyn also was a major role player in every one of the Awards Banquets the University hosted during the Lambert administration. From the selection of the Kansas City hotel where the function would be held to the theme, menu, invitations, flowers, colors of table clothes etc. she was really the person in charge. She was also a major contributor to the Wandering Wildcats trip program. Along with Jerry Weakley, she would help design each of the trips which were an important way for the University to interact with and identify potential donors and Board members. She also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interact with the important visitors to campus, like Margaret Thatcher, former President Gerald Ford, former Vice President Dan Quayle, George Will and William F. Buckley, all of whom were speakers at Baker. Baker relied on her energy during her time in Baldwin and the Baker community lost a revered member, and true “First Lady” when she passed away July 17, 2013.
Dan also brought some new traditions to Baker. For his fist commencement at Baker, he sought to have more drama than could be provided by a band playing “Pomp and Circumstance”. He borrowed an idea from William Jewell to have bagpipers lead the processional. Today, The Kansas City St. Andrew Pipes and Drums follow the marshals to lead the graduates at every commencement ceremony. Graduates often recollect this to be the most memorable part of their graduation experience. Another tradition and expansion of Baker’s international study focus was the study abroad program at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England. Dan credits Dr. Dean Bevan, an English professor at Baker, with coming up with the idea which Dan was able to turn into an ongoing partnership. More than 500 Baker students have studied at Harlaxton, which was ranked the world’s number 1 study abroad destination in 2015 by Best College Reviews.
Dan also found ways to serve the larger community beyond Baker during his tenure. He was a Director of the Douglas County Community foundation, Director of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church, Director of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Trustee of the Midwest Research Institute, and Member of the Kansas Independent Colleges Association and the Kansas City Regional Council for Higher Education. In addition, he was a Board member of the Bishop Seabury Academy of Lawrence, Trustee of KCPT-TV, Board member of Ferrellgas, Inc., Board member of the Kansas City Board of Trade, Board member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and a Board member of Barstow School. He was recognized by Ingram’s magazine as one of the ‘power elite class of ‘99”. He even wrote a chapter on “Jewell and the Community” as a part of the history of William Jewell entitled “Cardinal Is Her Color: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Achievement at William Jewell College” while the President at Baker.
Dan served as the Baker President for 19 years, the second longest tenure of any Baker President, surpassed only by Nelson Horn who served one year longer. Under his leadership, the University became recognized nationally as one of the top 100 private schools in the nation by Money magazine, and as one of the 300 best buys in the nation by Barron's 300 Best Buys in College Education. His legacy is immense as measured by his documented accomplishments, but his lasting impact on the lives of the students who were educated under his guidance is immeasurable.