Dr. Bill S. Cole, president emeritus of East Central University, died Wednesday in Ada [MARCH 10] after a battle with cancer.
His funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday [MARCH 15] at the First Baptist Church in Ada. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. in the Conference Center at Redlands Community College in El Reno. Burial will follow in El Reno.
"The entire ECU family morns the passing of Dr. Bill Cole," said ECU President John Hargrave. "He was a great leader with great vision and East Central University has flourished because of his leadership."
Cole, 72, was ECU's sixth president from 1989 until his retirement on June 30, 2006. That was the first day he had not been president of a college or university for 30½ years, since 1976 when he was named president of El Reno Junior College, now Redlands Community College.
"Dr. Cole loved being a president and he cared deeply about those who worked for him. His sense of loyalty and ability to support us had no boundaries," said Dr. Duane C. Anderson, ECU provost and vice president for academic affairs. "I worked for him for 27 years, and personally, I already miss his counsel and advice. His impact on my professional life was immeasurable. He was a credit to this university and to this community."
Cole came to ECU after budget cutbacks caused by the oil bust of the early 1980s postponed maintenance and repairs to campus buildings. Not only did he have to tackle those problems, he helped build new academic programs and kept abreast of the technology revolution, which he said was the biggest change during his presidency.
He also established relationships with people, agencies and organizations that helped enhance the university as it relied more on grants and private gifts to attract high-quality faculty members and pay for physical improvements.
He oversaw 21 construction, renovation or expansion projects, 16 endowments of chairs, professorships and lectureships, approximately $100 million in grants, the growth of the ECU Foundation Inc. from less than $2 million to approximately $20 million in assets, and ECU's entry into NCAA Division II athletics.
Cole was called a builder because something on the campus was undergoing either repairs, renovation or construction most of the years he served as president.
His construction projects included the Linscheid Library and the University Center, which was renamed the Bill S. Cole University Center on Feb. 26 by the Board of Regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma. The largest project, the $27 million Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, was under construction when he retired. Cole was instrumental in securing a $5 million gift from Hallie Brown Ford to get that project underway.
Cole, the first person in his family to go to college, could count about 40 degrees earned by those in his immediate family and their spouses when he retired.
He received an associate's degree from Eastern Oklahoma State College in 1957, a bachelor's degree in education from ECU in 1959, a master's degree in natural science from the University of Oklahoma in 1965 and a doctorate in education from Oklahoma State University in 1973.
He was born in Stuart and grew up in McAlester. He graduated from McAlester High School in 1955.
He taught biology at Putnam City High School from 1959 to 1964 and science at Purcell High School from 1965 to 1967. He was chair of the Science Department at Redlands from 1967 to 1975, then assistant dean of instruction until he was named president in 1976.
Cole has held numerous leadership positions, including two terms as chair of the Council of Presidents, an advisory council to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and two terms as president of the Presidents' Council for the Board of Regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of the ECU Foundation Inc. He was a past president of the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce and served on the Boards of Directors of the Ada Area United Way and the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He was a member of the Ada Sunrise Rotary Club (Paul Harris Fellow) and of numerous professional and civic groups in Ada and El Reno.
The former ECU president was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Oklahoma Educators Hall of fame in 2005. He received the Distinguished Leadership Award in 2005 in Washington, D.C., from the Council of Opportunity in Education for his service to federal TRIO programs.
Cole is survived by his wife Sondra, their five sons, Brent, Page, Rhys, Wade and Drew, and their families, including 11 grandchildren.
The family has designated two funds for memorials, the Dr. Bill Cole Presidential Scholarship Fund through the East Central University Foundation Inc. or the Falls Creek Building Fund through the First Baptist Church of Ada.
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