John R. Hargrave, who has served East Central University as president since 2009, has announced his retirement, effective in the spring of 2017.
Connie Reilly, regent for the Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO), was surprised by Hargrave’s decision and admitted, at first, she tried to talk him out of retirement.
“He has done a wonderful job for ECU. He brought a passion and excitement to ECU that was much needed,” Reilly said. “He is a wonderful fundraiser and is always adamant about bringing alumni back to campus and generating more pride in the university.”
Hargrave, the eighth president of the university since its opening in 1909, has deep roots and a special connection for his alma mater.
Eighteen members of his family attended or graduated from ECU, beginning with John’s grandparents. He graduated with honors in 1977, majoring in speech and sociology.
“I will always love this university. I love the students who have come and gone through here over the years and like I have always said, ‘the faculty and staff are the hardest working people I have ever been around.’ All of these people are what make ECU such a special place,” said Hargrave.
Reilly says Hargrave’s passion for students was evident when he first took over the presidency at ECU.
“I remember when he first arrived on campus and actually lived in the residence halls so he could better understand the student experience at ECU,” said Reilly. “He is always seeking the best options and looking out for the best interests of the students.”
RUSO Regent Chairman Lake Carpenter remembers when Hargrave recently passed around orange cards with the saying: “Be the most positive, enthusiastic person you know.”
“This really sums up his personality. He is always able to bring a positive spin to any situation,” Carpenter said. “He never stops looking to see how he can make things better. He is truly an example of this quote.”
Devotion to his family was the primary reason Hargrave decided to step down.
“My extreme desire is to be able to spend more time with my grandchildren, all of whom were born while I have served as president,” Hargrave said. “I saw a video of my granddaughter pulling up and I realized I’ve never seen her crawl.”
When asked how he plans to spend his days, Hargrave said “We bought a camper this summer and we hope to spend more time camping and quality time with my family.”
Under Hargrave’s reign as president, ECU has seen the opening of new facilities such as Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, William C. Thrash TV studio, Pat O’Neal Strength and Conditioning Center, Chickasaw Business and Conference Center and the Dr. Raniyah C. Ramadan Center for Undergraduate Research and Learning. The Chickasaw Plaza will soon open and serve as the primary entrance gate into Koi Ishto Stadium and Norris Field. The plaza will not only serve as a gate to the stadium, but will have a concession stand and restroom facilities.
“When ECU decided to build the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center, he set the standards for other regional universities,” said Carpenter.
Numerous remodeling projects were conducted across campus, including the remodeling of the Lanoy Education Building, Horace Mann Building, Elvan George Football Building, Taff Cafeteria and Linscheid Library Lounge, along with the conversion of the Band Building into the Kinesiology Building and the installation of turf on Norris Field at Koi Ishto Stadium.
Many programs were also established including the opening of the Ada Arts District, the Brandon Whitten Institute for Recovery and Addiction and the most recent Oka’ Institute, which studies and researches water quality issues.
Hargrave has achieved numerous honors along the way, including being voted chair of the Great American Conference President’s Council, alumni award at the Pi Kappa Alpha International Convention in Baltimore and being named “Best Boss” by the Ada News for two straight years.
His leadership has also led to partnerships with the Oklahoma State University Center for Health and Science by participating in the rural and underserved primary care early admission program and new agreements with several universities in China. He also oversaw reaccreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in 2012 and was a primary player in ECU receiving grants for STEM Fairs and was instrumental in forming an agreement with the Nature Conservancy.
“I congratulate President John Hargrave on his pending retirement from East Central University, and I wish him the very best,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. “President Hargrave’s leadership, commitment to student success, and community engagement are widely recognized and have been invaluable to both East Central University and Oklahoma’s higher education system. I have known President Hargrave since law school and I will miss his drive, his dedication to students and his complete commitment to enhancing East Central University at every level. His contributions to the Council of College and University Presidents will also be greatly missed.”
John’s wife, Kay Hargrave, a 1978 ECU graduate, is an assistant district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes Counties. They have four adult children, five grandchildren and a sixth grand