Farewell Jimmy Epting: The art of leadership

Photo by Abigail Tinker. North Greenville University's former president Jimmy Epting smiles for a photo op.

Photo by Abigail Tinker. North Greenville University's former president Jimmy Epting smiles for a photo op.

Alex Kern, Magazine Editor-in-Chief

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

January was a bittersweet month for many. After 36 years at NGU and 24 years as its president, James B. Epting decided to take a sabbatical leave this spring and say farewell this summer to the place that has grown to love and respect him.

After praying with his wife, Gretchen Epting, about how long was too long to serve as president, he announced his retirement before the start of the spring semester. It is both bitter and sweet because we all knew the day would come when Epting decided he wanted a new challenge, but sad because we’re not only losing a president, but a family member, too.

Now I know we’ve all heard the stories about how much Epting has meant to the university. We all know that Epting drove around the world (okay, maybe not the world, but he drove – a lot) to find donors to save the university from financial distress.  This school went from a place that made no difference to an institution “where Christ makes a difference.”

We all know how much he likes hugs, how delicious his cheese grits are and how the bell symbolizes a beacon of hope for a college on the brink of closing down. It symbolizes Epting’s 180 turn-around of North Greenville University through God’s guiding hand. Its sound is a reminder that in 1991, this school rose from the ashes.

Yes, we all know those things. They are good things to know.

But when he goes from a physical presence on campus to a memory, I don’t think we will realize how much of an impact he has had on each of us, not just the school, until that day comes. Like that old phrase goes: You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. When the new president takes the title, we will welcome him, but there will be an Epting-sized hole in our hearts that beat for one more story of our last president. Just one more.

So here’s one more story for you.

As graphic artist Abigail Tinker and I climbed the stairs to the President’s home, a man, not wearing a suit and tie but a genuine smile as wide as his arms were stretched, answered the door before I got the chance to knock. Holding that door open was Epting, dressed in a brown shirt and khakis. It hit me then, when he opened that door, that he really was no longer the president; but he was a husband, a father and a grandfather who was ready to spend some quality time with his grandkids.

He and his orange tabby named Buffy led us to the living room, where he explained to us, in a voice I’ve always thought sounded a lot like Matthew McConaughey’s, why he was retiring.

“It seemed like the timing was right. I wanted to leave while the school was doing well, and it is. We had another record enrollment this year,” said Epting

After 24 productive years, the time of Epting as NGU’s leader has come to a close, but Epting said he is ready for God’s next challenge for him, if God has one.

“If that next challenge is simply playing with my grandkids, that’s okay with me!" said Epting laughing.

“You always want to be in His will. If He has another good challenge for me, I am ready," said Epting

Read full coverage of our farewell to Jimmy Epting in the Spring 2015 issue of "The Vision" magazine on racks around campus.  Our theme this spring is "The Art of . . ." and we even have an NGUopoly game inside for you to play as well as some brand new NGU memes.  Learn about the art of everything in the Spring 2015 Vision Magazine.