Waynesburg University calls on Charleroi native Lee
Douglas Lee says it was “his calling” to return to Waynesburg University in 2009 as executive vice president. And soon, he will lead his alma mater.
Lee, 54, will become the university's 15th president on July 1.
“Back in 2009, I really felt that was what I was supposed to do,” Lee said. “I was a partner in a successful law firm, and I was never comfortable in walking away from that. But coming back to Waynesburg represented the best opportunity I had to utilize my faith in my everyday job.
“Helping to educate young people to live their lives with a purpose, that's what I wanted to do.”
Lee graduated from Charleroi Area High School in 1977 and Waynesburg University in 1981.
After graduating from the West Virginia University College of Law, Lee became an associate in the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg, W.Va. He became a partner in the firm in 1998.
“I got phone calls from a number of people affiliated with the university about going back,” Lee said. “It was a big move, and I really enjoyed being an attorney.”
The son of Donna Lee of Charleroi and the late Gilbert Lee, a former State Farm Insurance agent in Charleroi, Lee remained active in the Waynesburg University alumni council, where he served as president. He was also on the university's board of trustees and served as chairman of its Academic Matters Committee.
“I knew that when I was selected as executive vice president that being named president was something that could happen,” Lee said of his recent appointment. “It's very humbling to think that people have that much confidence in my abilities and chose me to lead the university forward.”
Lee and his wife, Kathryn, also a Charleroi native, have two children, Lauren Murphy, 28, of Pittsburgh, and Airman 1st Class Brendan Lee, 26, who is stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Alaska.
An avid endurance athlete who competes in ironman triathlons, Lee said he chose that tack because his wife said mountain climbing was too dangerous. An ironman triathlon comprises a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
He's participated in Ironman Arizona, Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Florida. He's also run several marathons, including the Marine Corps Marathon and Death Valley Marathon.
An eagle scout, Lee has served on the Mountaineer Area Council of Boy Scouts of America Executive Committee, and is an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He served on the Greene County Planning Commission and the board of directors for the Union Rescue Mission in Fairmont, W.Va.
Staying the course
Lee will take over for Timothy Thyreen, who will become university chancellor at Waynesburg.
Thyreen has guided the university through its best years, said Lee, adding that replacing Thyreen will not be easy.
Under Thyreen's leadership since 1990, the university increased its academic majors from 30 to 80, doubled enrollment, and moved the institution from a college to a university. Waynesburg now offers master's and doctoral degree programs.
“I'm going to pick up right where Mr. Thyreen left off,” Lee said. “I really have the utmost respect for all the work he's done.
He said that before Thyreen took over, “Waynesburg alums were worried that the college was about to go under, enrollment was really low, and the buildings were beginning to deteriorate.
“What he's done cannot be measured,” Lee said.
Lee said he wants to remain in touch with students, and said his history of being in the town and on campus gives him an advantage.
“I can relate to what it's like to be a student at the university,” Lee said. “I was a student here once. On top of that, I've raised a son and a daughter. I'm taking this as if I'm going to be a parent to 1,400 students. I have an obligation to care about each and every one of them.”
Lee said what makes Waynesburg a “unique university” is its heritage. He plans to focus on the original mission of the college and its founders.
“Waynesburg University was founded by people of strong faith that put it into action to make a difference in the world,” Lee said.
“We were the first college to grant bachelor's degrees to women in the 1850s, long before the (women's) suffrage movement, probably one of the first in the country.”
He said the founders were abolitionists who worked to achieve equal rights for all people.
“Two students at the time won the Medal of Honor at the Battle of Gettysburg in the Wheat Field, by rescuing wounded soldiers,” Lee said. “That's so consistent with what we teach our students about service.”
The Medal of Honor – America's highest military honor – is conferred by Congress.
Waynesburg University faculty, staff, and students volunteer 40,000 hours of service to the community each year, Lee said.
“We have an opportunity to raise up a generation of young people that can go out into the world and be leaders, and that have the confidence of their faith to make a difference in the lives of others,” he said.
Reaching out to the West, beyond the borders of Pennsylvania, will be a key goal for Lee as he tries to lure quality students to Waynesburg – in an area where small schools offering quality education are abundant.
“It's a very competitive landscape here,” Lee said. “We're reaching out to students from the West Coast and the Midwest and showing them what we have to offer.
“We're able to provide first-hand contact with people holding prominent positions, a low faculty-to-student ratio, and we're making sure that students have the ability to get the classes they need to graduate on time.”
Lee said his mission is for the university continue to continue to grow in prominence.
“I believe we have a wonderful message to tell and get out there,” Lee said. “We're seeing more students from other states come to Waynesburg because of our commitment as an institution of Christian higher education.
“That's our program, and many students and their parents are interested in that. Our goal is to help students develop their confidence with their faith and their relationship between their education and faith.”
Just like home
Lee said there are few differences between living in Waynesburg and how life was like in the Mon Valley growing up.
“I was always taught that you never forget where you came from,” Lee said of his father's teachings. “You never forget those that helped you along the way, and you repay those people by helping others. That's what I want to do for the students at Waynesburg.”
Lee said that thanks to the interstate highway system, the Waynesburg area has become similar to the Mid-Mon Valley.
“One thing prominent about the Valley growing up was the work ethic,” Lee reminisced. “People were self-reliant. I was always taught by my dad to work hard. My mom, she taught me to be compassionate. They're a big reason that I'm where I'm at right now.”
Looking ahead, Lee said he's thrilled to have the chance to lead Waynesburg into the future.
“This is my opportunity to make a difference,” Lee said. “And, I'm honored that I'll have the opportunity to work with and use Mr. Thyreen as a resource as he assumes the position of chancellor.
“I look forward to continuing the university's relationship within the community and beyond.”
Since being named as Thyreen's successor, Lee said every day has been a whirlwind, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.
“I've had so much energy, I don't even know where it all comes from,” Lee said. “I think it stems from the Yellowjacket community. The faculty is so committed, and that's very motivating, and the students are so sincere and bright. I've had visiting scholars from other universities talk about the spark they can see in our students.
“I've loved this place since 1977, and now it's my turn to carry the lamp and move us forward.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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