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Ron Calgaard, president emeritus of Trinity University, died April 10, 2020, following a brief illness. He was 82 years old. Calgaard served at Trinity’s helm from 1979 to 1999 and was the longest serving president in the University’s history.
“President Calgaard’s enormous contributions impacted all aspects of the life of Trinity University. Our national stature has become a reality because of his vision and commitment. Trinity continues to benefit from the wisdom and connections he nurtured to ensure the University's future,” said Danny Anderson, Trinity President. “He also was a true citizen of San Antonio, strengthening multiple organizations through his service on boards. His vision and leadership made a positive and permanent imprint on Trinity and San Antonio.”
Under President Calgaard’s leadership, Trinity achieved national recognition for excellence in liberal arts and sciences education. One of his early and most significant accomplishments was to lead the University community in redefining Trinity’s mission. That mission essentially continues to define Trinity’s pursuits and reputation today.
During President Calgaard’s tenure, the University focused its educational emphasis on undergraduate education. Calgaard transformed Trinity into a residential University that greatly improved the sense of community among students, raised the admissions standards, and increased the geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity of the student body. Trinity also aggressively recruited National Merit Scholars, which brought the University wide acclaim in the national media. Under Calgaard’s leadership, Trinity became a national leader in Division III intercollegiate athletics.
In addition, Calgaard increased the size of the faculty and dedicated substantial resources to developing a faculty that would support the mission of the University as a vigorous learning center. He developed Elizabeth Huth Coates Library into one of the finest undergraduate libraries in the nation and added more than $100 million in new and renovated academic, athletic, library, and residential facilities to the Trinity campus.
Calgaard had a reputation as a resourceful leader with exceptional management skills and fundraising abilities. The Commitment to Distinction capital campaign early in his presidency raised nearly $50 million to support faculty recruitment, research, curriculum development, and scholarships for students.
His energy and work ethic were legendary. In his history of Trinity University, A Tale of Three Cities, University historian Doug Brackenridge wrote, “He brought a directed and sustained energy that dramatically altered the institution’s academic image. Calgaard relentlessly pursued the goal of transforming Trinity from a reputable regional institution into a nationally acclaimed undergraduate university.” (Read more about Calgaard's legacy as part of the University's 150th Anniversary Memories project.)
Calgaard and his wife, Genie, modeled a “culture of presence” on the Trinity campus. There were few activities on the University’s calendar that they missed. The Calgaards were well known for hosting countless events over the years, welcoming Trinity faculty and staff, students and their families and the community into their home on Oakmont.
Even after retirement from Trinity, the Calgaards continued to support the University financially and through their participation at campus events. Trinity’s Board of Trustees celebrated Calgaard’s legacy through an unrestricted scholarship and a professorship in his honor, as well as a rededication of the new Ron and Genie Calgaard Performance Gymnasium.
Calgaard served in leadership positions in numerous national educational organizations and was an active community leader, lending his expertise to many nonprofit and community organizations. His community service and extraordinary leadership were recognized with several awards including Trinity’s Distinguished Service Award, induction into the Trinity Athletic Hall of Fame, and the San Antonio Business Hall of Fame.
Prior to joining Trinity, Calgaard served as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University of Kansas. He received his doctoral and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in economics summa cum laude from Luther College. He earned a Woodrow Wilson graduate fellowship and also served as a post-doctoral fellow in Latin American studies in Santiago, Chile.
Ron Calgaard is survived by his wife of 60 years, Genie; daughter Lisa Sands and husband Peter, and grandson Eliot Sands; son Kent Calgaard and wife Francie, and granddaughter Kathleen. A celebration of his life will take place at the Margaret B. Parker Chapel at Trinity University at a future date.