Past Presidents 2013 – 1963

President Byrd Past President

John Byrd 2005-2013

John Byrd, Simpson’s 22nd president, began his presidency in 2005. Byrd had a legacy of success, bringing to Simpson the Kent Campus Center and expanding the Blank Performing Arts Center. Byrd was also instrumental in launching a new brand initiative, bringing Simpson’s story to places outside of Iowa. His years at Simpson also brought the John C. Culver Public Policy Center, the Iowa History Center and the Simpson Urban Studies Institute to campus. He also strengthened the academic curriculum, helping students adapt to the needs of employers and the global marketplace. Students can now obtain major in neuroscience. He also helped establish the Carver Medal in 2008. The past eight years during President Byrd’s time as president ultimately changed Simpson College’s story. He retired in 2013.

Kevin LaGree

Kevin LaGree 1999-2005

R. Kevin LaGree, Simpson’s 21st president, was a Harvard-educated lawyer, United Methodist pastor and former dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University prior to his appointment at Simpson. During his presidency, he was instrumental in the successful funding of the Lilly Initiative for Vocational Development program, established with a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation. The faculty was strengthened during his years at Simpson, and he led the effort to establish a campus master plan for capital improvement. He appointed task forces to examine diversity, retention and marketing, and the resulting reports led to the appointment of a dean of multicultural affairs and the establishment of a marketing division. He was widely regarded as a public speaker and received numerous invitations to deliver sermons at area churches. LaGree resigned to become Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Des Moines IA.

Bruce Haddox

Bruce Haddox 1998-1999

Bruce Haddox, interim president, began his tenure at Simpson in 1969 as professor of philosophy and history. Haddox served as academic dean from 1994 until his retirement in 2006, continuing to teach each semester. His major goal as president was to build community. During this year the Simpson Fund total was the third highest in history, there was record enrollment and the college began implementing a new strategic plan to increase diversity and retention.


Stephen G. Jennings

Stephen G. Jennings 1987-1998

Stephen G. Jennings, Simpson’s 20th president, came from the presidency of the School of the Ozarks. His background was in student development. During his tenure, the ‘Secure the Promise’ fund drive raised $37M for endowment and capital improvements. The athletic team name went from Redmen to Storm in 1992 with his leadership. Major capital projects, including the expansion of Carver Science Center, the construction of Picken Hall and the renovation of Wallace Hall, were completed during his tenure. Jennings resigned to become president of Oklahoma City University.

Robert E. McBride

Robert E. McBride 1979-1987

Robert Edward McBride, vice-president and dean of academic affairs at Albright College, was nominated and elected 19th president of Simpson. After serving as a paratrooper in WWII, McBride had served as pastor and a college professor. During his administration, Simpson balanced its budget and added evening and Saturday classes and other short courses. The general studies program was again strengthened; January Term became May Term. The Fund for Excellence raised $20M. The Amy Robertson Music Center and McNeill Business and Computer Science Center were built; College Hall and Mary Berry Hall were restored. Simpson celebrated its 125th anniversary. When McBride retired, both he and Luella, his wife, were given honorary degrees. The new baseball diamond was named McBride Field.

Richard B. Lancaster

Richard B. Lancaster 1972-1979

Richard Bailey Lancaster, formerly associate dean of academic affairs at Oberlin College, was elected the 18th president of Simpson in June 1972. Under Lancaster, there was a Goal Setting and Review Committee that resulted in a reduction of faculty, higher admissions standards, and the addition of general education requirements. Consensus building and collegiality eased student issues, doubled the endowment and encouraged the remodeling of food service and a new PE center. Lancaster resigned to be vice-president for college relations at Beloit College. Simpson granted him an honorary degree.

Ralph John

Ralph C. John 1963-1972

Ralph Candler John, Army chaplain and dean at The American University, was recruited to be Simpson’s 17th president. During his tenure, there was increasing democratization of governance and liberalization of student life and the curriculum. His ten year plan succeeded: the faculty was increased by half; the academic calendar now included January Term; more land was purchased; and several buildings were added including a chapel, student center, performing arts center and coed dormitory. His time also included vast student unrest and revolt, antiwar rallies and an FBI probe. John resigned to accept the presidency of Western Maryland College.