Former FPU president Arthur Wiebe dies

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Wiebe’s vision became Fresno Pacific University

By Wayne Steffen

Arthur Wiebe, Fresno Pacific University president emeritus, visionary and longtime university and community benefactor, died Sept. 14. He was 94.

Serving from 1960-1975, Wiebe became president during a time of change and led an administration dedicated to innovation in curriculum, facilities and philosophy. The year Wiebe took the helm, Pacific Bible Institute became Pacific College and had only the year before moved to 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, the location of today’s main campus. The school grew from a junior college to a four-year liberal arts institution in 1963 and became accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (now WASC Senior College and University Commission) in 1965.

Early on, Wiebe encouraged the faculty to rethink the college’s mission and identity, which led in 1966 to the first “Idea” vision statement. Today, the “Fresno Pacific Idea” still forms the core of the university's identity as a Christian university, a community of learners and a prophetic voice to the region and world. More than just encouraging a faculty, Wiebe created one. As the school grew, he hired a generation of faculty members and administrators—some early graduates—many of whom made Fresno Pacific their professional life and served into the new millennium.

In the 1970s Pacific College moved beyond its undergraduate curriculum, becoming accredited to offer master’s degrees in 1975. At about the same time came a program providing training to teachers in Central California, which is today the FPU Office of Continuing Education.

Though quoted as saying all education requires is a teacher, a student and log for them to sit on, Wiebe oversaw construction of several buildings still central to learning and life at FPU: Witmarsum Quad (1960-1968), Strasbourg Quad (1960-1971), Hiebert Library (1962), Alumni Hall (1964), Memorial Prayer Chapel (1966) and Marpeck Center (1967). Named in his honor, Wiebe Educational Center opened in 1990.

Wiebe’s commitment to FPU did not end when he stepped down as president in 1975. In 1981 he and the late Larry Ecklund co-founded AIMS (Activities in Integrating Science and Mathematics) Education Foundation. The foundation provided the major gift for the AIMS Hall of Mathematics and Science at FPU, dedicated in 2003, as well as two endowed professorships and numerous scholarships.

Among Wiebe’s community honors are The Harold Haak Award for Educational Excellence from the Fresno Compact and the Distinguished Achievement Special Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) California Valley Chapter. He was also involved in the creation of San Joaquin College of Law, serving on its board for 20 years, and the Southeast Fresno Community Development Corporation.

Wiebe was born April 20, 1920. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern State University, a master’s degree from California State University, Fresno, and a doctorate from Stanford University. He and wife Evelyn, who died March 1, 2008, were married August 24, 1941, in Corn, Okla. They have two children who survive: Richard, a 1974 FPU graduate and a former member of the FPU philosophy faculty, and Ann. Also surviving is daughter-in-law Billie Jean Wiebe, an associate professor of communication at FPU who graduated from the university in 1974. 

A public viewing took place September 17 in Fresno and a memorial service is planned for October.

 

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