By Katie Kreis
I love catching up with friends, professors and mentors, and am lucky to have found all three in Dr. Bill Withers, Professor Emeritus (a recent honor — congratulations!) of the Department of Journalism & Communication. Withers was a longtime friend of Grant and Fadra Price and held the first position of Grant L. Price Endowed Department Chair of the Department of Journalism & Communication. We current students only recognize Withers in either a Hawaiian or flannel shirt, depending on the season.
After taking a year of leave from Wartburg College to explore his ever-evolving passions, Withers will retire with 20 years of service to the students of Wartburg College. His next move is as Executive Minister at Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines.
KATIE: When did you hold the position of department chair?
WITHERS: I came to Wartburg in 1998 to be the department chair, a position I held for 12 years, three consecutive terms and I was the first to hold “The Price Chair” when it was first endowed and awarded.
What were your duties as chair?
My primary leadership focus was to attract and retain as many students as possible to a department that had gone through quite a few changes in the mid-1990s. In addition, the industry was changing dramatically at the same time. So, leading change, growing the department, attracting solid faculty and landing the very best students were where I spent most of my time and attention when not in the classroom with my own students. We grew to be the third-largest program on campus during that time.
Could you explain the establishment of the chair and how it became attributed to Price?
To Grant’s credit, he understood what it might take to secure the department and leave a legacy toward a more-than-sustainable future. Grant had been a good steward of his own financial matters and agreed to endow not only the chair, but scholarships. He was visionary.
What contributions did Price make to the department as its leader?
He and Sen. Liz Mathis were both instrumental in getting the department more firmly grounded as a pre-professional academic unit. Students would come in knowing they would be almost assured of landing a good job in the industry, while at the same time getting a solid liberal arts education.
What did it mean for you to sit in a position that has so much history and legacy attached to it?
I was honored, as I know Dr. Pier is today. It’s hard not to appreciate Grant’s media legend and legacy across the Midwest and how much of a pioneer he was. We became dear friends and I miss he and Fadra both — they folded my young family into theirs, and we have wonderful memories of those days. He even became friends with my parents.
I’m proud to have also been the professor and advisor of Grant’s granddaughter, Emily. Her brother Andrew was also in my office quite a bit at Wartburg. To know Grant and his family trusted their kids’ education to us was very special to me. Ironically, I worked on a project with Emily just a couple weeks ago as part of her own life of leadership leading a substantial foundation here in Iowa. It’s funny how those Price family connections have become *priceless,* even still today.