April 01, 2017
By Angela Burrows
L. Jay Lemons never set out to be a college president. A child of the 1960s and ’70s, the Scottsbluff, Neb., native left home for Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1978 to further his education and to run for Woody Greeno, the school’s legendary track and field coach. His plan was to pursue a career in teaching and coaching. But fate had a way of intervening, leading him first to one college presidency and then another.
L. Jay Lemons
Lemons’ ability to connect with people, combined with his impeccable integrity, humility and deep knowledge of higher education-both private and public-has been at the heart of his success as a university president, according to his colleagues and friends.
Lemons will step down as president of Susquehanna University on June 30 to become president of Academic Search, a Washington, D.C.-based executive search and leadership development firm. The transition will be somewhat bittersweet for him after serving as a college president for 25 years. His time at Susquehanna’s helm is double the average tenure of a university leader.
SWEET HOME SUSQUEHANNA
Lemons left the chancellor’s role at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise) in January 2001 and traveled 500 miles north to Susquehanna with his wife, Marsha, and their four very young children. Central Pennsylvania quickly became home.
“I struck gold twice as a president,” Lemons says. “I enjoyed my time at Wise. I loved the people, the culture, the music, the pace of life. … There was so much potential there, and I had the privilege of helping to light a fire in a place that has taken off like a rocket ship.”
As for Susquehanna, it is a true gem, a place where a very talented faculty encourages students to reach their fullest potential, says 57-year-old Lemons, who will remain connected, perhaps doing some teaching if the opportunity presents itself, and supporting President-elect Jonathan Green in any way he can.
“Lots of institutions chew through leaders, but this campus community has afforded me a full measure of grace. The people of Susquehanna have a generosity of spirit, and there’s a good sensibility about this place. People here believe in our mission, love the work they do, and have the collective strength to meet the inevitable challenges.”
Susquehanna has had many successes, as well as challenges, during Lemons’ tenure. Through it all, Lemons says his consistent guideposts have been what is in the best interest of students and the university.
“Presidents are stewards of their institutions, and those persons who love their colleges and universities put an enormous amount of trust in a president to protect, guard and promote what is in the best interest of the university. It has been enormously sustaining for me to be buttressed by a Board of Trustees and a senior leadership team that are grounded in great integrity and faith in our mission. The board’s grace and the grace of the university community have been generous.”