MEQUON — Crowds gathered Wednesday to celebrate the upcoming retirement of Concordia University's 24-year President Patrick Ferry during his daily 3-mile run around campus.
"I'm a distance runner, you just kind of keep going," Ferry said. "It’s amazing, 24 years in some ways it’s a long time, but others ways it feels like just the blink of an eye."
Concordia says Ferry is currently the longest-tenured university president in Wisconsin with 24 years of service. According to a 2016 American College President Survey, the average college president spends 6.5 years in that office.
"I have seen during that time, my first students have graduated and moved on, they have children who've come here, graduated and moved on, who now have children as well," Ferry said. "And now I figure I've got to get out of here before I start getting the grandchildren."
Ferry started as a history professor in 1991 and then became university president at age 38.
"His legacy is one that's going to endure, he really has turned Concordia into what it is today," said Head of Advancement, Roy Peterson.
Administrators say Ferry has grown the campus and its programs, impacting tens of thousands of students while staying true to its Christian mission.
This past year the COVID-19 pandemic put Ferry's decades of experience to the test.
"There was no blueprint for that," Ferry said. "We watched our peers, our peers watched us, we collaborated with other universities."
He says going forward, the pandemic has heightened the need for distance learning as well as the desire for in-person connections.
"He’s so personable," said student Emma Hartman. "He’ll walk down the hall, and you know him by his bow tie."
"Dr. Perry treats everybody like a family," said alumni Jeff Jurss to his sons. "In fact, I think he helped move you into your dorm even, it was awesome."
Ferry says he's most proud of the team he's fostered, and the students he helped learn and grow.
"It’s also time, it’s time for new leadership, fresh ideas, taking on the challenges, and there are going to be a lot of them for higher education in the next generation," Ferry said. "And I’ll be as supportive as I can be."