AmbroseZine | July 2021
One alumnus was confident Sister Joan Lescinski '21 (Hon.), CSJ, PhD, would lead St. Ambrose University well when she became its 13th president in the summer of 2007. After all, John Anderson '87 was a member of the search committee that identified the lifelong Catholic educator as the right person to build upon the 20-year presidential legacy of Dr. Ed Rogalski.
Initially at least, Jef Heckinger '70 couldn't be as certain.
"My concern was I wanted somebody who would bleed Ambrose blue," said Heckinger, a Rockford attorney who joined the St. Ambrose Board of Trustees just as Sister Joan's tenure was beginning. "I discovered we couldn't have done better."
Sister Joan's storied 14 years at the SAU helm will conclude next week. She announced her intention to retire last August and will end 50 years of dedicated commitment to Catholic higher education on Aug. 6.
President-elect Amy Novak, EdD, will succeed Sister Joan, effective Aug. 7. Her inauguration as the 14th president in university history will take place on Oct. 1.
A faculty-staff social will celebrate Sister Joan's St. Ambrose legacy on her final day in office. She will remain in Davenport for one year to provide counsel to Dr. Novak.
Anderson, Heckinger, and fellow members of the SAU Board of Trustees paid appropriate tribute to the retiring leader this summer by collectively creating the Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, Endowed Scholarship.
It is particularly appropriate because making a St. Ambrose education available and affordable for all students and their families was a priority throughout Sister Joan's 14-year tenure, said Associate Vice President for Advancement Sally Crino, who was challenged in 2008 to drastically increase the number of SAU endowed scholarships.
The Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, Endowed Scholarship brings to 55 the total number of endowed scholarships added since 2007. That exceeds by one the 54 such scholarships created from 1927 through 2006.
Crino noted an additional 20 endowed scholarships have been pledged through pending estate donations.
Having joined with her brother, Joseph Lescinski, and sister, Ann Akins, in establishing an endowed St. Ambrose scholarship in the name of their parents, Joseph and Pearl Lescinski, in 2010, Sister Joan said the trustees' gift of another such scholarship in her name is a truly humbling and welcome tribute.
"It is an extraordinary act of generosity on the part of the Board of Trustees to endow a scholarship in my name as I come to the end of my 14 years as president," she said. "No gift to me could have been more meaningful to me for two reasons. First, it will allow students in the future to have more financial assistance in their pursuit of an education at St. Ambrose University. All of us know today the financial challenges that students and their families face in affording higher education.
"But, secondly, from a personal point of view, I am the recipient of scholarship assistance throughout my own education, whether at the undergraduate, master's, or doctoral level. Without that financial assistance, I never could have earned the degrees that have enabled me to serve in my ministry of higher education for nearly 50 years. My prayers will be with those students who will be helped by this scholarship and with all our donors who make scholarship assistance possible for our students."
As Anderson prepares to serve a third president in his role as a St. Ambrose trustee, he believes Sister Joan will long be remembered for many St. Ambrose achievements.
"With each president, there is a legacy, a bit of a personal imprint that helps build upon the culture of a university," he said. "Sister Joan has added richly to our culture. Especially in the area of our Catholic faith. In today's crazy world, it's important to have the core of who we are as an institution be not only recognized but furthered through the president."
Heckinger said Sister Joan's confident leadership served St. Ambrose and its students well.
"Sister is a take-control leader and she has provided the board education and guidance," he said. "She leads very gracefully, but she has a mission. She has always put St. Ambrose and its students first."
Growth has been a constant during Sister Joan's tenure, including ongoing program expansion in health sciences education and undergraduate programs such as Business and Healthcare Sales, Biomedical Laboratory Science, Human Resource Management, and Cybersecurity. In addition, wrestling and winter guard programs will debut this coming year and bring to 13 the number of varsity athletic programs added since 2007.
And, of course, new buildings have dramatically altered the campus landscape and enhanced the University's impact across the region. This includes the $21.5 million, 80,000-square-feet Wellness and Recreation Center that opened in 2017 and was the largest capital project in university history.
More recently, a re-imagined McMullen Hall debuted in 2018 as a modern home for the College of Business. As with other brick-and-mortar projects, the human aspect and student impact drove that project.
"She is a teacher at heart in the classroom with a zest for student learning and perseverance to graduation," said longtime trustee Edmund Carroll. "She has striven to provide facilities for the students exemplified by the state-of-the-art Wellness and Recreation Center and the re-imagined McMullen Hall."
Class of 1986 alumni and trustees Beth and Brian Lemek co-chaired the "Building Our Future" capital campaign centered around the Wellness and Recreation Center, along with fellow trustee Barb Johnson and her husband, Mike.
As Quad Cities natives, the Lemeks are particularly proud of the regional impact that also is a piece of Sister Joan's legacy.
"What stands out to me when you talk about Sister Joan is all the improvements that have benefited the entire community, not just the University," Beth Lemek said. "She wasn't just there to raise money and to put up brick-and-mortar. She leaves a much bigger legacy."