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CMU’s first president retires, receives tribute

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President of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and one of CMU’s founding colleges, Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), Gerald Gerbrandt retired June 30, 2012.

At a June 23 event at CMU, family, board members, faculty and staff, members of CMU’s constituency, colleagues, and friends gathered to celebrate the leadership gifts Gerbrandt brought to CMU and to higher education in Manitoba.

As president of CMBC when CMU began in 2000, Gerbrandt was one of three presidents who led CMU in the early years. “After lengthy conversation, prayer, and reflection,” in 2002–03, the search committee selected Gerbrandt as the sole president of CMU. He was installed in September 2003.

Notable achievements during Gerbrandt’s tenure at CMU include securing a degree-granting charter for the university from the Manitoba Government in 1998, and acceptance into the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada (AUCC) in 2008. He helmed development of new programs – including the Redekop school of business – construction of a science laboratory, and the announcement of a new library and learning commons.

“The words – university, church, world – capture, for me, the essence of what CMU is and should be,” said Gerbrandt at the retirement event: “a careful thinking place, a place of the church, with its eyes always beyond itself and the church to the mission of the church in the world. We are a place where faculty and students together are encouraged, freed, and helped to think as carefully and systematically as possible about any aspect of our world, never simply satisfied with the answers of the past. That is what a university is.”

“But we are a university of the church,” he continued. “We thus do this careful, systematic thinking always mindful of our conviction that God made us and the world in which God placed us, and that God loves us despite our tendency to rebel, and sent Christ into the world for us. The questions we ask are the same as at any other university, but our identity as a Christian university means we also have to ask how our being followers of Jesus Christ impacts the way we respond to these questions.”

“And our passion in all of this,” said Gerbrandt, “must go beyond ourselves to the world in which God placed us, and which God loves. We have a mission as Christians to be salt and light in the world… We always have to remind ourselves that we have a commission to make a difference in the world as representatives of Christ, as agents of peace and reconciliation.”

Envisioning CMU’s future: “My hopes for CMU rest in the wonderful people who work here, and even more, in the belief that an institution that brings faith and meaning questions to bear on the careful systematic thinking about our world meets a tremendous need. And my hope rests in the conviction that God is at work at CMU.”

Married to Esther Neudorf, father of three, grandfather of one,Gerbrandt is an active member of Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg. In the coming year, Gerbrandt has plans to finish a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. “And perhaps, in a year, I will return and do some part-time teaching,” he adds.

(From the CMU BLAZER, Spring 2012)

I have always appreciated Gerald’s desire to develop leaders for the church. This focus was already present at CMBC, where I encountered him both as the instructor of my first year Psalms class and as a faculty friend on the choir tour bus. I became more aware of it when we worked closely together while I was Assistant Moderator to the Mennonite Church Canada General Board, be¬fore and during the formation of CMU. Gerald wanted to develop an education program that would enable students to contribute more fully to the church and the world. This desire was furthered when a recommendation passed by Mennonite Church Canada delegates required all students at the new Mennonite university to complete the equivalent of one year of their degree in Bible-related courses. Gerald has continued to model that leadership as he has participated in national and pro¬vincial church assemblies, connecting with the broader church, and reconnecting with alumni. I will miss his extremely organized reports and the meals and laughter we have shared.—Joy Kroeger | Former Assistant Moderator, Mennonite Church Canada (2001-04)

I first met Gerald more than a decade ago through the annual gathering of Higher Education leaders of the Mennonite Brethren institutions in Canada. I enjoyed his energy – he seemed like a coiled spring, ready to pop at any time. Subsequently, our connection was maintained while my three children attended CMU. Recently, I had the privilege of working closely with Gerald in my role as Director of ICOMB – the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. CMU hosted the global Higher Education Consultation in 2011. Gerald was on the Steering Committee. I very much appreciated his creative involvement and his appreciation for the global community of leaders in our educational institu¬tions. He and I also presented a paper in two halves: what we – as church and school leaders – hoped to see from each other in the school-church relationship. It went over very well and marked an occasion of working together both theoretical and practical. God’s blessing in your retirement, Gerald.—David Wiebe | Executive Director, International Community of Mennonite Brethren

As a relative newcomer to CMU, and a Lutheran, I rather expected that I would always feel a bit of an outsider. This has not, however, turned out to be the case. I belong, and a good part of that feeling is the result of Gerald Gerbrandt’s personality. He was, as far as I’m concerned, an ideal president. His mind is astute and his grasp of the myriad issues involved in running a university is nothing short of amazing. But, unusual in a leader of his stature, he is a patient listener and his diplomatic skills are outstanding. Any organization of this complexity, even one that strives to exemplify peace and reconciliation, will experience conflict. Gerald has created a space where diverse opinions are not only heard, but valued. And what is particularly heartening is that under Gerald’s leadership I just knew that CMU was bound to succeed. There is something about him that assures us that the well-being of our lovely little Christian university is secure. No, not merely secure. CMU is flourishing. Thank you, Gerald—Sue Sorensen | CMU Associate Professor of English

As you complete your mandate, Gerald, you can be justifiably proud of CMU’s accomplishments and of yours as President. I was honoured to serve as Chair of the Visiting Committee that recommended CMU for membership in AUCC. Our Committee was impressed by CMU’s students, staff, and community, and by your capable and caring stewardship as President. I was recently in southern China where I met Canadian Consul-General Weldon Epp (CMBC, BTh.1991), who is an exemplary representative of Canada and of CMBC/CMU. I told Weldon that I knew his alma mater well, and that I understood why he was so well educated. As you retire Gerald, you can do so knowing that thousands of CMU graduates will continue reminding the world of your good work.
Best wishes in the next rewarding phase of your life. Congratu¬lations on everything that you and CMU have achieved.—H. Wade MacLauchlan, CM | President Emeritus, University of Prince Edward Island

Gerald was the right person at the right time to start CMU. He was very aware of CMU’s dual heritage, and he was very good at making sure that all were equal partners. Gerald’s key gifts are to listen, and to work as a team. He has the ability to think things through quickly, and he’s very articulate. Under his leadership, I have seen major change happen. There’s a spiritual vibrancy here; chapels are full and Bible studies and fellowship groups abound. CMU has flourished under his leadership. And I have been very impressed at how the finances were managed. There have been no financial crises – that was part of his leadership. We did not spend above our means. We were very careful at how quickly we grew. Thank you, Gerald, for your leadership. I am very excited about where CMU is now, and where we are headed.—Ron Boese | Former Director, CMU Maintenance Department

Families can be complicated. So it is and was with the Mennonite Brethren and General Conference Mennonite Church families and, in particular, two of their colleges, MBBC/Concord and CMBC. Relations were congenial and warm, but there were inexplicable differences that kept their relationships at arm’s length. The process in which three Winnipeg-based Mennonite colleges started to talk to each other about another paradigm was neither new nor unwelcome. Neither was it a foregone conclusion. Gerald Gerbrandt’s role in turning the dream into reality was absolutely critical. Gerald is a person of complete integrity. He brought a perspective which was refreshingly straightforward and non-political. His comments and his writing were always careful and clear, and he sought as hard to understand as to be understood. His commitment to a fair, above-board process that honoured the contribution of all was irrevocable. Gerald exemplified diplomatic trustworthiness which made us proud to be associated with him. There are few people whom I respect more than Gerald, and I am quite convinced that his early leadership in the coming together process, followed by years of committed presidency, were, and have been, indispensable to what CMU has and will become.—Al Doerksen | Former Concord Board Chair (1992-’99)

Gerald’s ability to listen carefully to other perspectives and ideas and then articulate how to incorporate them into a plan of action and vision of the future was crucial to the development of CMU during the early years of planning. I experienced many times his willingness to incorporate other peoples’ understandings into how we could move forward without being defensive about any position he had taken in the past. At the same time, Gerald’s strong commitment to the core of what he believed the new institution needed to be helped to keep us moving in a positive direction despite many different understandings about the best way to get there. His strong connection to Mennonite Church Canada and intentional connections to the Mennonite Brethren constituency were crucial to communicating the new vision for Mennonite post-secondary education. CMU has been blessed greatly by Gerald’s tireless work and leadership and just as importantly by the people that he has invited and encouraged to be an important part in its development and growth.—Bruce Baergen | Former CMBC Board Chair (1997-’01)

As the only member of the CMU senior administrative team situated off the Shaftesbury Campus, working from CMU’s Menno Simons College campus, I worked with Gerald in a rather unique way. We did not see each other every day, and some weeks we did not even talk to each other, and yet, I always knew that he was just a phone call away. Gerald usually answered his own phone and no matter how busy he was, or what kind of pressures he was under, he always gave his attention to me in a way that made me feel as if my question or issue was of utmost importance. This accessibility and open communication was especially important since Menno Simons College is not physically part of the rest of CMU. Gerald has done a wonderful job of walking the fine line between providing support and inclusivity to MSC, while at the same time allowing MSC to maintain its distinct culture and sense of place. I will miss his wise counsel and personal support.—Ruth Taronno | Associate Vice President, Menno Simons College

I was a young, impressionable, first-year CMBC student when I first met Gerald more than 30 years ago. He was my 240 “Intro to the Old Testament” professor, but he quickly became my sounding board for all things CMBC. When I was overwhelmed with theological issues, or confused about how to write a formal college-level paper, his office door was always open. He welcomed me, and everyone else, with patience, good humour, and infectious smile. Gerbie, as he was known to students, also always wanted to hear about dorm life. He was “all about relationships.” He wanted to feel the pulse of the school, both academically and socially. For us, Gerald’s office played a large role in strengthening the CMBC community. Now, many years later, I realize how important Gerald’s gifts have been in my life. One gift was his ability to interact with a wide variety of people, from presidents of public universities to people in the pew with no formal theological training. For Gerald, we are all on the same playing field, and in all people, he sees knowledge and wisdom, and the face of God. Gerald is an inspirational and visionary church leader. But for everyone who has been fortunate enough to know him, most importantly, he is our friend. Thank you, Gerald, for this incredible gift. I am honoured to be called friend.—Charlotte Siemens | Principal, W.A. Fraser Middle School (Abbotsford, BC)

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