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Gaertner Visits Sam
James F. Gaertner, the likely choice for Sam Houston State University's next president, visited his alma mater Wednesday, accompanied by a heavy June rain storm that failed to dampen the enthusiastic welcome he received from students, faculty and Huntsville community leaders alike.
Gaertner, who received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from SHSU, was recommended by the SHSU presidential selection advisory committee as the one finalist to be considered by the Texas Board of Regents out of a field of 75 applicants.
The regents are meeting now at Lamar University in Beaumont, and are expected to interview Gaertner preliminary to a final decision by the conclusion of their quarterly session Friday.
Gaertner had two meetings on campus, one with faculty and one with students, and attended a luncheon in his honor with a broad representation of community leaders in attendance.
Retiring SHSU president Bobby K. Marks employed a reference to the weather in introducing Gaertner at the luncheon, stating that he had "heard of presidential candidates taking a campus by storm, but that he had never seen it done before."
Gaertner and wife Nancy concluded the day's schedule with a formal reception at the historic Austin Hall building fronting Sam Houston Avenue.
Gaertner handled a wide range of questions at both gatherings, and commented that
"The questions were good, and about what I would expect."
"They were productive questions, and nothing from way out in left field," Gaertner said. "There was a sense of "let's move the university along,' because we have made so much progress with Bob Marks. And they want to continue that progress."
If a strong arm and durability are prerequisites for the university president's job, then Gaertner passed the test with flying colors, as an estimated 200 to 300 people - faculty, students, well-wishers - waited at the reception to shake his hand and offer a few words.
Through it all Gaertner was smiling, laughing, and seemed to be genuinely enjoying the greeting, meeting and well-wishing.
"Nancy and I are just overwhelmed," he said, "We just think its been wonderful.
"Sam Houston has always had the culture of friendliness, and this is just a reaffirmation of that," Gaertner said. "It's just wonderful."
Search committee comments
If Amanda Kimbrell's vote is an omen, Gaertner definitely has the job. She is the SHSU student body president and served on the selection committee that elevated Gaertner.
"I could talk about him all day long," she said, "because I have learned so much about him from being on the search committee."
"I have high expectations for him - especially about funding for the university," Kimbrell said. "He brought in a lot of funding for UTSA (University of Texas San Antonio) and I think that would be a real positive for Sam Houston."
The Spring senior is an agriculture major and expects to graduate next year.
She said the committee reviewed about 75 application packets and then rated the candidates.
"He was my pick all along," Kimbrell said. "He stood out from the very beginning.
"I think he cares a lot about the people he works with, the students, the faculty ... everybody," she said.
"He is very easy to talk to. You can talk to him about anything."
Frank Parker, Associate Dean of Student Life, was the staff representative on the selection committee.
"I am very impressed with Dr. Gaertner," he said, "during the interview process I really began to understand where he was coming from - to see his motivation and his inspiration.
"I was thinking at the time "this guy is great'," Parker said, "every thing about him just seemed to have prepared him perfectly for this position.
"I think he is going to be real positive for the institution," he said.
"Every one of the candidates had very special attributes," Parker said, "but Dr. Gaertner just stood out above the others.
"This is one of the most positive things I've ever done," said Parker, "and it made me proud to be a part of Sam Houston. But I don't know if I want to do it again," he said, "It's kind of like getting married - you're glad when it's over, and you don't want to do another one for a long time."
Bill Fleming, chairman of the faculty senate, said: "I just think he's going to be great."
Another search committee member, Charles Friel, professor of criminal justice, said that Wednesday's events were "personally very gratifying for me, as I have been involved in this search process for six months. I think this is a very good match.
"I think we are blessed in being able to secure a really good candidate to recommend to the Board of Regents, who will meet with him (Gaertner) this Friday and make a decision," he said, "and I have every reason to believe the decision will be positive."
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Byron Hays can be reached at 936.294.5407, ext. 3026, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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