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Richard "Rik" Warch

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Richard "Rik" Warch Obituary
Warch, Richard "Rik'

Richard "Rik" Warch, 74, former president of Lawrence University, died at his home in Ellison Bay, Wis., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

He was born Aug. 4, 1939, in Hackensack, N.J., the son of George and Helen Warch. After earning a bachelor's degree in history from Williams College in 1961, he enrolled at Yale University, where he earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1964 and a Ph.D. in American studies in 1968. In 1962, he married Margot Moses. They traveled to Scotland for his second year of divinity school at The University of Edinburgh and he was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1968.

Rik enjoyed a long and distinguished career in higher education beginning at Yale, where he taught 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 and director of the Visiting Faculty Program.

In 1977, Rik came to Lawrence as vice president for academic affairs and professor of history. Two years later, he was named the college's 14th president and served as the face and voice of the college until his retirement in 2004. His 25-year presidency is the second longest in Lawrence history. Nearly one-third of Lawrence's 20,000 living alumni graduated during Rik's presidency.

More than anything, Rik not only cared about Lawrence, but he cared for Lawrence. His presidency was marked by zest, style, intellect, wit and warmth. He was a tireless and effective advocate for Lawrence and its particular brand of liberal arts education. He frequently used the matriculation convocation pulpit to articulate the virtues of liberal learning. Those addresses were published as the book, "Matter of Style: Reflections on Liberal Education" in 2012.

Rik initiated significant changes at Lawrence. He instigated a curriculum review, which produced a new set of general education requirements and then persuaded the faculty to restore Lawrence's signature Freshman Studies program to its original two-term format in 1986 after it was dropped in the mid-1970s and reinstated as a one-term course in 1978.

He transformed the Conservatory of Music, expanding its curricular scope, encouraging students in both the college and the conservatory to sample each other's worlds and establishing its place firmly in Lawrence's broad liberal arts curriculum.

The campus landscape was altered dramatically under Rik's stewardship, with the construction of six new buildings — Wriston Art Center, Buchanan Kiewit Center, Shattuck Hall of Music, Briggs Hall, Science Hall and Hiett Hall — and major renovations to Alexander Gym, Main Hall, Youngchild Hall and the Mudd Library, among others.

His vision also laid the groundwork for a campus center, which came to fruition after he retired. At the request of an anonymous major donor, the center was named the Richard and Margot Warch Campus Center in his and Margot's honor.

Among his greatest achievements, and arguably his greatest legacy as president, was the rebuilding and expansion of Lawrence's presence at Björklunden, the college's "northern campus" in Door County. He passionately argued to creatively make Björklunden a part of what it means to be a Lawrence student. Today, through his indefatigable efforts, a modern facility supports more than 100 weekend seminars for students during the academic year and nearly three dozen week-long seminars for adults in the summer.

Personal interaction was a hallmark of Rik's presidency. He was a fixture at Lawrence concerts, plays and athletic events. He was renown for his ability to greet students and alumni by name. He enjoyed talking with faculty and students outside the classroom and took advantage of opportunities to get to know students as individuals. After a casual conversation about favorite childhood books (his was Winnie the Pooh), he was delighted to be invited to read bedtime stories with groups of students in their residence halls.

In 1987, Rik was recognized as one of the country's top 100 college presidents in the Exxon Education Foundation study "The Effective College President."

In addition to "A Matter of Style," he is the author of "School of the Prophets: Yale College, 1701-1740" and co-edited the book "John Brown" from the Great Lives Observed Series. He also published numerous articles in scholarly publications on American religious history, U.S. history and liberal education.

Rik was actively engaged beyond the campus borders as well, serving as chair or director on numerous boards during his career, among them 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.

Lawrence recognized him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the college's 2005 commencement. Ripon College presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1980.

He spent retirement in Ellison Bay, becoming knowledgeable about the birds and wildflowers of Door County, traveling widely with Margot and enjoying extended visits with his children, grandchildren and friends.

He was a member of the Peninsula Players Board of Directors, active at the UUFellowship and was both a student and instructor in seminars at Bjorklunden.

Rik 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, brothers-in-law, Peter Fenton and Bob Moses, sisters-in-law, Lois Moses, Marilyn Moses and Marysue Moses and their families.

There will be memorial services at Bjorklunden in Door County and at Lawrence University in Appleton on dates to be determined.

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

Online registration and condolences may be offered at

Published in Appleton Post-Crescent on Sept. 18, 2013
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