Richard Warch '64 B.D., '68 Ph.D. dies at 74

Richard Warch '64 B.D., ’68 Ph.D. the second-longest serving president in Lawrence University's 165-year history, died peacefully at his home in Ellison Bay, Wis., Saturday morning, Sept. 14, following a battle with thymoma cancer. He was 74.

Lawrence's 14th president, Warch led the college from July 1, 1979 until his retirement June 30, 2004.

Born August, 4, 1939 in Hackensack, N.J., Warch earned a bachelor's degree in history from Williams College in 1961 and spent a year at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Upon his return to the states, he attended Yale University, earning a bachelor of divinity degree in 1964 and the Ph.D. in 1968.

He began his distinguished career at Yale, teaching history and American studies for nine years. While at Yale, he also directed its National Humanities Institute for two years and spent a year as associate dean of Yale College before going to Lawrence.

Known affectionately as "Rik" to many, Warch was a gifted writer and articulate speaker who advocated passionately on behalf of the residential liberal arts college model of education and the the virtues of liberal learning.  More than two dozen of his university convocations were compiled for the book "A Matter of Style: Reflections on Liberal Education," which was published in 2012.

"So many people had the pleasure of knowing Rik as a colleague, friend and teacher," said Lawrence President Mark Burstein. "During his 25 years as president he strengthened the university's academic offerings, constructed much of what we call our campus today and fostered an engaging learning environment through personal charm and intellectual discourse. Rik also revitalized Björklunden (Bee-YORK-lun-den) and more closely connected our northern campus to the university’s mission.

"All of us at Lawrence will have many opportunities to celebrate his life in the coming weeks and months," he added, "but at this moment our hearts and prayers go out to his wife, Margot, and the Warch family."

Former Lawrence president Jill Beck, who succeeded Warch in 2004, hailed him as "the most eloquent spokesperson I have ever heard" on the value of liberal arts education. 

"Rik was a partisan advocate for the kind of education Lawrence offers, and his persuasive oratory was a model for involved, educated citizens," said Beck. "I will remember his open-hearted manner, his warm laugh, his wit, his scholarly understanding. He was a beloved figure who put the community first while paying attention and care to each of its members. He will be greatly missed and our sympathy goes out to Margot and his family."

During his presidency, Warch oversaw the completion of two successful capital campaigns that collectively raised $109 million between 1982 and 1997. Six new campus buildings were constructed and eight others received major renovations. Lawrence's endowment grew from $23 million at the start of his presidency to more than $182 million when he retired.

Beyond the physical plant, Warch was instrumental in reinstating the university's convocation series, adding a second term to Lawrence's signature course, Freshman Studies, revising general education requirements and increasing the number of faculty in the conservatory of music, which significantly helped transform its scope.

Arguably his proudest legacy was the establishment of Björklunden, Lawrence's 425-acre "northern campus" in Door County, as an integral part of a Lawrence education.

He initiated an adult summer seminar series in 1980 and in the mid-1990s proposed a program that would guarantee every student an opportunity for a Björklunden experience. The result was a highly popular interdisciplinary weekend seminar program that saw more than 1,600 students participate in 125 separate seminars during the 2011-12 academic year.  

Known for his intellectual and insightful leadership, he was one of four college presidents invited in 1987 to address a special convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association on the proper role of athletics in higher education. He raised eyebrows in Division I athletic departments nationally by calling for the abolishment of athletic scholarships and the distribution of financial aid to all students equitably on the basis of demonstrated need and academic potential.

That same year, Warch was cited as one of the country's top 100 college presidents in the two-year study, "The Effective College President," funded by the Exxon Education Foundation. 

He impact on the college was recognized in 2009 with the naming of Lawrence's new campus center in his and his wife Margot's honor. Warch had initiated discussions on the need of a student center nearly 20 years prior to the 2009 official dedication of the 107,000-square-foot campus centerpiece.

A year after retiring, Warch was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Lawrence at the college's 2005 commencement. Ripon College recognized him with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1980.

Warch served as a director on numerous boards during his career, including Competitive Wisconsin, Inc., Wausau Insurance Company, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, the Wisconsin Ethics Board, the Appleton Development Council, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

He is survived by his wife Margot; his two sons and their families, who live in St. Paul, Minn.: Stephen, his wife Alexandra Klass, and their daughters Helen and Zoe; and David, his wife Sarah, and their daughters Sydney and Georgie; and his daughter Karin, a Ph.D. candidate who studies and teaches in London, England.  He is also survived by his sister Linda Fenton, his aunt Betty Hansen, his brothers-in-law Peter Fenton and Bob Moses, his sisters-in-law Lois Moses, Marilyn Moses, Marysue Moses, and their families.

Memorials in Rik's name can be directed to Lawrence University for the Warch Family Scholarship Fund or for the benefit of Bjorklunden.

A memorial service will be held at Lawrence on a day and time still to be determined.

Date Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 4:53pm