Photo Comparing McKendree in 1994 and in 2014

Twenty Years of Progress

Two Decades of Leadership & Growth


Dr. Dennis

The past two decades at McKendree University have been transformative under Dr. James Dennis’ leadership since his arrival from southern California in 1994. McKendree’s 32nd president has been a catalyst for unprecedented growth and progress.

A dramatic growth in enrollment, academic and co-curricular programs, on-campus residents, fundraising, campus size, quality of faculty and students, and an enhanced image have all contributed to McKendree’s expanding reputation. As it continues to evolve, the University’s mission remains unchanged: to provide a high quality educational experience to outstanding students.

Dr. James M. Dennis

I really don't look back. I wake up
every morning and consider what we will accomplish today. I think of all that we haven’t been able to do, and all of the things we need to do. I have a passion about what we do here and an unshakeable commitment to McKendree.

The Tenacious Dr. D: A Trustee's Reflection

by Donald Metzger, McKendree University Trustee

MetzgerIt is said that the most comfortable state of affairs is the status quo. If that is true, then likewise it could be said that your Trustees have spent a most uncomfortable twenty years, because our President is not one to be satisfied with the status quo.

Upon his arrival twenty years ago, Dr. James Dennis was charged with awakening then McKendree College from a deep institutional slumber. Those who work with him have had little time for even a catnap since.

Piper Hall, the Hett, a football/track complex, new dormitories, 1828, a new dining hall, a dramatic entrance to the campus, all demonstrate compelling evidence of progress far beyond what one could reasonably expect in such a relatively short period of time.

However, those of us who have worked with Dr. Dennis over the years have learned that his barometer of progress is not the amount of new brick and mortar brought to the campus. First class facilities are his means to an end. Our President’s measure of progress has been with reference to a more substantial criteria and his accomplishments so reflect.


  • A larger student body and one more diverse ethnically and racially thus contributing to the cultural enrichment of the campus community;

  • An emphasis on improved student performance and retention thereby helping many more of our students take the celebratory walk on graduation day;

  • An energized faculty that excels not only in the classroom but in community service and scholarship setting not only high standards but a formidable example for our students;

  • A graduate program, its success evident by its numbers, that offers opportunities for continued scholarship and career credential enhancement;

  • An expanded athletic program that provides not only a welcomed diversion for more students, but a continued commitment to physical activity and well-being;

  • A marching band, a debate team of national prominence, an expanded extra-curricular activities program to engage the students and provide a source of community pride in performance;

  • A selfless and talented staff that is willing to multi-task its way toward the President’s well-defined goals.

These things happen not by happenstance nor as the result of a status quo mentality. They happen because an enlightened, energetic, and caring leader is committed to the academic, social and cultural enrichment of the University community and has the vision and talent to fulfill that commitment. On behalf of the thousands of students who have traveled through the campus in the last twenty years and those of us who are fortunate to be sharing the journey: Thank you, Dr. D.

An Approachable Leader: An Alumna's Experience

by Rebecca (Lindstrom) Wohltman ’09

Dr. Dennis & Rebecca WohltmanMcKendree is a family. A family communicates and shares concerns. A family takes time to be with one another. A family knows its members. And a family has fun. That family mentality at McKendree starts at the top with Dr. James Dennis.

On many campuses, students never personally meet the college president. If they do, the student and president exchange a formal handshake and continue their lives without creating a real relationship. At McKendree, only when Dr. Dennis travels out of town do students not see him walking across campus nearly every day or eating lunch in Ames at least once a week. Dr. Dennis greets students with more than a parade wave - he gives them a hearty handshake, a pat on the back, or a great big hug. He asks students about their day, projects, extracurriculars, family - and waits for a real response. And when he sees that student again, he will ask about those things because he knows the students as more than names.

One January snow day, my roommate Kamara Owens and I, anxious to get outside our McKendree West apartment and enjoy the beautiful snow, decided to walk up to main campus. We detoured to the Stevenson House on the off chance that Dr. Dennis was home. Many people would never consider knocking on the president’s front door, but we were comfortable doing so. Not only was he there, once overcoming his brief surprise at students on his front porch on a snow day, he invited us in and talked to us for nearly half an hour, all while wearing sweats and slippers.

This event epitomizes the type of relationship Dr. Dennis builds with McK students. He welcomes students. He opens his door (literally) to students.

Dr. Dennis also has a sense of humor and jokes with students. Throughout my junior and senior years at McK, I had some fun with a plastic Santa and a white wire reindeer. (Let’s suffice it to say Santa and his reindeer visited a lot of offices around campus.) About a month after I graduated, I stopped in to see Dr. Dennis. When I walked into his office, he wasn’t in his chair - plastic Santa was!

At the William McKendree Society dinner in May 2012, Dr. Dennis stood as everyone finished eating and said he had an important announcement. My heart skipped a few beats and my eyes probably filled with panic. Dr. Dennis has kids and grandchildren in California, so I feared he was preparing to announce his retirement. My mind raced to all of the future challenges of meeting a new McK president. But, no, that was not the announcement. He merely announced that the University bought Locust Hills Golf Course.

When I told Dr. Dennis that I was incredibly relieved that he did not announce his retirement, he chuckled and said that he has things to do yet. And things he’s done!

Twenty years ago, many of the current extracurriculars that attract students near and far to McKendree didn’t exist. Just in the five years since I graduated, McK added lacrosse, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, among others. Dr. Dennis’ reason for adding these sports is simple: he seeks to recruit the best students for the McK family.

Students, families, alumni, and community members packed MPCC for the first ever home men’s volleyball game. Of course, Dr. Dennis was in attendance cheering for the newest Bearcat team. He knew the team was all first-year students, that they faced an uphill battle this first season, and that they could and would climb that hill. A few months later on a Saturday evening, Dr. Dennis watched proudly as the men won one of their first matches. He knows all of those men by name, just as he knows most other students. Perhaps not many college presidents would spend their Saturday nights at another school event where their presence would not be missed, but not Dr. Dennis.

Dr. Dennis’ vision for McKendree has expanded the University’s offerings, number of buildings, and nationwide reach. He’s encouraged the trustees, faculty, alumni, students, and other stakeholders to think bigger and grander than maybe ever in McKendree’s history.

Dr. Dennis helped make my experience at McK one I will treasure always and one that I share frequently. He welcomed me into the McK family, just as he does for all Bearcats. You could say he’s the papa Bearcat.

Dr. Dennis
Twenty years ago I had a vision of what McKendree could become. With good fortune, good people and guidance from above, we have achieved many milestones and have many more opportunities ahead. This is a great place to be with tremendous support. It’s been the right place for me.

~ Dr. James Dennis

20 Years of Progress

New Construction, Major Additions and Renovations

Successful fundraising campaigns have enabled new construction and the development of academic, residential, visual
and performing arts, and athletic facilities, and the renovation of historic campus buildings including Bothwell Chapel.

20 Years of Progress20 Years of Progress

Housing and Support Services

In the last decade, McKendree has experienced its largest
student enrollment and retention in its 186-year history, necessitating more housing and support services.

Private sector partnerships and lease agreements give the University tremendous flexibility to grow or downsize as necessary. The McKendree West apartment complex on College Road includes two-bedroom apartments, a pool, clubhouse and sand volleyball court. The developer continues to add units to accommodate the need for student housing. McKendree also leases apartment buildings on Perryman and Monroe Streets and purchased a building on nearby Hunter Street.

Since 2009, the acquisition of additional houses and buildings on the campus perimeter has added much needed space for faculty, staff and athletic offices.

20 Years of Progress

Academic Programs

20 Years of Progress

Bearcat Athletics

20 Years of Progress



Our theme of education through athletics guides our intercollegiate athletic program. On a daily basis life experiences are taught through our co-curricular activities. When we admit a student we commit our full resources to ensure their success in all areas of their experience. Our role is to plant seeds of greatness.

~ Dr. James Dennis



Student Athletes


Looking Forward

Major Renovation Planned for Voigt Science Hall

20 Years of Progress

“McKendree is on the go … and growing” often appeared on construction progress reports and other publications during Dr. Edwin Voigt’s presidency from 1964 to 1968, according to the McKendree College History, 1928-1978. The phrase continues to apply 50 years later, as a major renovation is planned for the science building named for McKendree’s 28th president.

Too keep pace with the growth of McKendree’s biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and pre-engineering programs, Voigt Science Hall, built in 1965, will be modernized with a new addition, updated facilities and an exterior facelift. A redesigned interior will maximize usable space more efficiently within the existing shell.

The extensive upgrade will include state-of-the-art, multipurpose rooms and laboratories, improved teaching technology, and a large lecture hall where experiments can be conducted. “Faculty-student research collaboration has always been an important part of the McKendree experience. With this renovation, we will have the ability to dedicate some small areas as faculty-student research laboratories,” said Dr. Robb Van Putte, professor of biology.

An addition to the north end will provide a new formal entrance, elevator access and more room to expand. The two-story building will be remodeled one floor at a time to allow many classes to remain in session.

The university has raised about half of the $15 to $20 million total cost and continues to actively seek resources for the project. Construction will begin as soon as the needed funding is secured. To learn more about the science building renovation, naming opportunities or to make a gift, contact our Development Office at (618) 537-6456.

What I now see in my mind’s eye is what we still have to accomplish. We have
many great ideas. I hold myself accountable for making those ideas become a reality. I have confidence that this community will continue to achieve a great deal.

 ~ Dr. James Dennis

Growth and Change, 1994–2014

* as of Sept. 1, 2014







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4 Masters


1 EdS


1 EdD


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Terrific things are happening at McKendree. I feel so lucky and so blessed to be a part of McKendree’s past, present and future.

~ Dr. James Dennis