TRANSITIONAL ELEMENTS

Two WCU alums agree to join Chancellor Belcher’s leadership team

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

Leisurely days filled with golf and grandchildren were within sight for Beth Tyson Lofquist ’78 MAEd ’79 EdS ’88 and Robert Edwards ’77, but the two longtime Western Carolina employees recently agreed to take on higher levels of responsibility to help Chancellor David O. Belcher lead their alma mater.

Among Belcher’s first official actions was appointing Edwards as vice chancellor for administration and finance. Edwards had worked as WCU’s internal auditor for 27 years before initially accepting an interim appointment to succeed George W. “Chuck” Wooten ’73, who stepped down Jan. 1. Belcher made Edwards’ appointment permanent July 1.

A few days later, Belcher announced that Lofquist, a former public schoolteacher before becoming a WCU faculty member and administrator, would serve as interim provost. The move enabled Linda Seestedt-Stanford, interim provost since July 1, 2010, to return to her position as dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences and oversee final construction on a new 160,000-square-foot, $46 million building that will house the college.

With those appointments, Belcher has finalized the university leadership team known as Executive Council. “During a time of transition in the leadership of an institution, it is very important that we ensure that the critical elements of stability, continuity and institutional memory are included in the process,” he said. “This is especially true at the current stage of life for Western Carolina, given the ongoing budgetary challenges facing the university, along with an unusually large number of interim appointments across the campus. Beth and Robert both bring to the table the expertise, experience and long-term perspective I need on my leadership team to help guide the university during this period of transition and fiscal uncertainty.”

For Edwards, postponing endless rounds of golf on the mountain courses he loves is just the latest example of a lifetime of public service. A 23-year-volunteer with the Sylva Fire Department, he is treasurer of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and a member of the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and the Jackson County Board of Equalization. “Being a native of Jackson County, I have always had a passion for giving back to the people who had always supported me,” said Edwards, a 1973 graduate of Sylva-Webster High School. “It has always been my belief that a person’s success is not measured by how much one has acquired in life, but by how much a person has given back.”

A WCU management major, Edwards began his university career as a payroll clerk before becoming internal auditor. Now vice chancellor of administration and finance, he oversees a division that comprises the university’s financial and business services functions, including the controller’s office, budget office, purchasing, human resources, physical plant, university police, Ramsey Regional Activity Center and all auxiliary services such as dining, printing and mail operations.

“I believe in Dr. Belcher not only as a chancellor, but also as a person,” Edwards said. “In the short time I have known him, his demonstrated leadership qualities and integrity are impeccable. I see my role to advise and counsel him from a historical perspective of the campus and the numerous state regulations, laws and rules. I also see myself as a leader in implementing his vision for this wonderful place called WCU. Obviously my biggest challenge now is the budget reductions imposed by the state and the distribution of them in a fair and equitable manner throughout the campus.”

When Lofquist, a Haywood County native, earned her master’s degree in 1979 and began teaching in Jackson County, she envisioned herself staying in public schools her entire career, perhaps capping it off as a middle school principal. But she began also teaching part time at WCU, becoming a full-time faculty member in 1993 and serving as head of the Department of Birth through Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle Grades Education from 2002 to 2005.

While teaching at WCU, she earned her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1997 – and realized higher education was her true calling.  “It was delightful to teach students who were being trained to be teachers – students who thought I had something valuable and relevant to offer, because I was in the classroom each day and sharing those experiences with them,” she said.

Agreeing to the appointment as WCU’s chief academic officer is a labor of love for Lofquist, within a year of being able to retire. “One of the reasons I said yes is because I know that so many others feel the same way I do about this institution and care deeply about its development and the experiences we provide for our students. As Gurney Chambers ’61 [retired dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions] said, ‘It’s the Western way,’” she said. “While I did not aspire to this position, I am deeply honored to be given this opportunity and will try my best to do the job the institution needs me to do. This is, and always will be, a special place to me.”

Both Edwards and Lofquist have deep family ties to WCU. Edwards’ daughter, Lori Edwards ’01, and brother, Wayne Edwards ’79, are alumni. “I was so excited when Lori chose this university for her education, which meant she would be part of the WCU family,” he said. Lofquist, who attended WCU with sibling Stanley Tyson ’77, has seen three children earn degrees at the university – stepson Jon Manring ’94, son Daniel Manring ’07 and daughter Rebecca Manring ’06, currently a WCU nursing student. “Growing up a Methodist minister’s daughter, we moved around quite a bit. I attended seven different schools before graduating from high school,” Lofquist said. “Since coming to WCU in 1974, I have never left. I have been here so long now that I cannot imagine being anywhere else.”