Moments from a Meaningful Life

Dr. Ken Weller, Central’s president from 1970 to 1990, was a significant force in bringing the college into the modern age. His is a story of the last century’s great moments and great struggles — World War II, women’s rights, the globalization of education. Dr. Bob Leonard of KNIA/KRLS interviewed Dr. Weller about his time in the U.S. Navy, his degree in economics, his years as a football coach, his legacy as a college president and his work creating Division III and institutionalizing women’s sports.

In Dr. Weller’s Own Words

About his time as an electronic technician in the Navy and the atom bomb:  “I was one of those very, very unusual persons that was clearly ticketed to go on the invasion of Japan … I am one of those people that’s probably here only because of what Truman finally decided to do … I don’t think we really  appreciated at the time the horror of nuclear bombing … I did not ever, until later, get to the point of balancing that there were some other people who are gone, who paid the prices that made it possible for me to be here … I’ve become aware of what a difficult, difficult situation it is to try to weigh the life of one person against the life of another.”

About teaching at Hope College (Mich.) and serving as president of Central: “Even when I became a college president, I felt that I was really a teacher who was taking on some administrative duties … I feel whatever successes I had as a college president were in significant measure due to the fact that I was a teacher at heart.”

About drafting the Division III philosophy statement: “I have a feeling that athletics, really, are a part of education … The way you justify athletics is not to entertain the spectator but to influence the lives of the participants. That really is the essence of what Division III seeks to do.”

About his work pioneering women’s sports at the collegiate level: “I was in the decision-making process of something that was a major determinant of cultural change in society in the last 25-30 years. It’s a remarkable thing how rapidly and how well women took to the opportunity of participating in athletics.”

About the international programs created under his leadership at Central: “The international programs are a thing that distinguishes our college from almost every other college … We moved in the area of overseas studying abroad for students in a very aggressive way that was really quite remarkable … Most of it was built after I came here, and I was of a mind that I came because I thought it was a good idea and I wanted to build it.”

About his legacy at Central: “I’d like to be remembered as a person who cared — who cared about students and what happened to them and how they grew and how people worked together. I was never a college president on a white horse; I was a consensus builder.”

About this year’s incoming freshman: “I’d advise them to be open — to be open to new ideas and new opportunities. I think it’s a marvelous time of life … I would always urge them to think in terms of serving other people.”

Hear the full interview with Dr. Weller.

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  • Thom Vines


    11:01 am on September 5, 2011

    I was a friend of President Weller’s son, and spent many hours at their home when it was still on Broadway. So I got to know President Weller in a more relaxed environment. He was always a man of dignity and integrity. I think what I most admired about him was that he was never pretenious. None of this: “I’m the president of a college” stuff. I got the impression that one moment he could be speaking to a member of his faculty, or someone like the Governor, and then the next he could sit down with the locals up at Central Park cafe. He seemed to be very “comfortable in his skin” with a quiet confidence. Central was lucky to have him.

  • Jeff Kisner, '77


    10:00 am on September 5, 2011

    While visiting CUI on a RCA Youth Weekend in 1972, Ken spoke to me while I was in the mens’ locker room after playing some basketball in the gym. Gary Timmer spoke to me first in the gym and sent Ken into the locker room to talk to me. After that moment, I knew Central was for me. It was a redemptive choice. During a long career in higher education, I’ve witnessed several different styles of college presidencies, and it was his warmth and vulnerability to talk informally and personally with prospective students and their parents that I value most. His leadership could also be collaborative, as well as authoritative without bravado. His faith in God is authentic and his caring piety genuine. Thank you, Ken, for your ministry to the RCA and D-III, and for everything you’ve given to me personally. You’ve been my teacher, too. All the best to you and Shirley. May your days continue to be long and generative.

  • Willard (Will) Prather


    7:53 pm on September 3, 2011

    Ken Weller was the right man at the right time for Central College. I graduated from
    Central in 1951, and have lived within 12 miles of the college since 1953. Although
    I have not been active in the College,I have been aware of its Presidents and their
    strenghts. Ken would be top of the list.

  • Sandra Stroo


    8:48 am on September 3, 2011

    Dr. Weller was one of the people at Central that I most admired while I was on campus. I remember he and his wife invited groups of freshman students to his house for dinner in small groups, quite a hospitable task for them. At the time, they lived in that beautiful brick house just north of the Student Union. I remember being impressed by their warmth and hospitality, which also spilled over into their on-campus interactions. I bless him and his administration for being open to the monumental task of initiating the international programs. I was fortunate to take advantage of them. These were eye-opening experiences for a wide-eyed, not-yet-entrenched Midwestern girl. Thank you, Dr. Weller.

  • Ronald Fadness


    4:36 pm on September 2, 2011

    It is safe to say that Dr. Weller will be remembered as he hopes by those fortunate enough to have known him. I have yet to meet a person I respect or admire more, and doubt I ever will. All who have been a part of Central over these many years owe him a debt of gratitude.