By RENEE WEBB
The longest-serving president in the history of Briar Cliff University – Bev Wharton – was honored Sept. 21 with a learning center in her name.
Sister Cathy Katoski, OSF, chair of Briar Cliff’s Board of Trustees, said they gathered to celebrate Wharton’s leadership and outstanding service.
Wharton led the charge in the $11 million renovation and addition to Heelan Hall that included state-of-the-art laboratories, expanded classrooms, the Roth Atrium, coffee bar and bookstore.
While the new addition was blessed and dedicated in 2013, Sister Cathy said, “When Bev announced her retirement, the university launched a campaign in her honor to thank her for her service by establishing an endowed scholarship and to rename the building. We officially dedicate the new addition to Heelan Hall and rename it the Beverly A. Wharton Learning Center.”
Wharton began her service at Briar Cliff as the interim president in June of 2001 before taking on the permanent position until her retirement in the spring of 2016.
“Thank you for being one of university’s most influential leaders in our history. Your vision and commitment has created a lasting legacy for the future of Briar Cliff, impacting generations to come,” Sister Cathy said.
The trustee cited the many accomplishments Wharton made during her tenure at the school such as the establishment of an online degree program and growth of graduate enrollment. Under her leadership, the university’s net assets grew from $18.6 million to $30 million and it received various national accolades for academic excellence such as a distinction as best regional college by U.S. News and World Report.
During the ceremony, the Briar Cliff Board of Trustees also presented Wharton with the President Emerita designation for her exceptional contributions to Briar Cliff. Bishop Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City unveiled a plaque containing the resolution.
As Wharton took to the podium, emotion was evident as one word summed up her reaction, “Wow.”
“Thank you all for being here today. There really are no words that I could express how overwhelmed and humbled I am,” she said.
When she came to Briar Cliff as an interim president, Wharton acknowledged she originally had no intention of applying for the permanent position but by the time the national search began 15 months later, “At that point, I was bleeding blue and gold and so goes the rest of the story.”
Wharton said many good things happened during her time at Briar Cliff such as the construction of the learning space and remodeling of the “iconic Heelan Hall.”
On the first day of her position as president, she recalled the school became a university that enabled it to add graduate and doctoral programs. A few years ago, Briar Cliff added a campus at Mayfair Center to house the doctor of physical therapy program.
“We focused on student engagement and student success,” Wharton said. “And we reignited our Catholic, Franciscan identity. I did not do this. This happened because of the many faculty, staff and administrators along with alumni, the Sisters of St. Francis, our benefactors and members of the Siouxland community who worked together to support the mission of Briar Cliff University.”
She stressed the fact that Briar Cliff is a special place.
“Employees are here not because it is a job but because they believe in the mission of higher education Briar Cliff University,” Wharton said.
On a regular basis, when they would speak about students who impacted the world, she said they would say, “Briar Cliff changes lives.” Wharton insisted, “Well, Briar Cliff University changed my life.”
Briar Cliff taught her the value of critical thinking, there are two sides to every story and you learn by putting yourself into the shoes of others – walking their walk before coming to a conclusion.
“I also learned that we have a responsibility to be of service to others and I saw this exhibited every day in our students and employees. Briar Cliff University has gifted me and my family with many blessings.” said Wharton, who thanked the Briar Cliff community for their impact on the world. “I will always love Briar Cliff. You will hold a special place in my heart and I will do my best to live in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and Briar Cliff.”
Earlier in the program, Bishop Nickless offered a prayer, asking God to “bless Beverly today for her vision, leadership and service to Briar Cliff University and confer upon her the gifts of your Spirit.” A member of Briar Cliff’s student body, senior Jacob Hindman, also offered comments during the ceremony. The student relayed the immense impact that Wharton and the new learning center has had on the institution and his own academic life.
“Not only does the addition have new, state-of-the-art classrooms, but several updated labs,” he noted. “I’ve spent much more time in those labs than I care to admit – over 1,000 hours. This renovation, with Bev as the head of Briar Cliff, truly made my education and my experience one to remember.”
Briar Cliff University Singers, under the direction of Dr. Sean Burton, sang the Prayer of St. Francis. Sister Cathy mentioned the singers, and all the Briar Cliff students, always had a special place in Wharton’s heart and many referred to her as a “students’ president.”