Dr. Louis Burgher, president of Clarkson College since 2007, figures it’s time to turn the job over to a younger man.
Burgher, 71, will step down in August, turning over the presidency to Tony Damewood, a longtime administrator at Clarkson, the state’s oldest nursing college.
Burgher has overseen plenty of change at Clarkson, including tripling the college’s enrollment. Well-known in the metro area’s medical and business communities, Burgher will become president emeritus of Clarkson, working on tasks such as real estate, legislative relations and mentoring Clarkson’s leadership team.
His affection for Clarkson and his loyalty to the institution go beyond his job. His wife, Susan, graduated from Clarkson about 45 years ago. A daughter, Rachel, and a son-in-law, Clark Thompson, also earned degrees from Clarkson.
Clarkson’s president said he selected Damewood as his successor and the board agreed.
“Strictly speaking, it’s not retirement,” Burgher said last week. “I can only keep Tony in the wings so long. He’s a talented man and he’s earned his stripes.”
Since Burgher took over Clarkson’s presidency nine years ago, the college has:
» Increased enrollment from about 400 to close to 1,200.
» Added doctoral programs in health care education and leadership and in nursing practice.
» Developed online programs that have enrolled students from more than 30 states.
» Moved the library from the basement to the second floor and modernized it with digital resources.
» Developed simulation labs so students can practice on mannequins and other kinds of technology.
Clarkson has programs in nursing, health care business, medical imaging, professional development and other fields.
The Rev. Tom Hurley, chairman of the Clarkson board, said the panel accepted Burgher’s recommendation recently and unanimously appointed Damewood as his successor. The Clarkson faculty and staff were informed at a strategic planning session Jan. 18.
Before Burgher took over, morale was low. He had been chosen as a short-term replacement to right the institution after it had endured a rough stretch.
“The college was in a bit of disarray when he came on,” Hurley said. “Dr. Burgher came in and almost immediately put everybody at ease.”
Burgher engaged employees, heard their concerns, projected professionalism and had the school clicking again, Hurley said.
“He really values input from every employee that works for him,” said Rita VanFleet, coordinator of alumni relations at Clarkson. “He listens.”
VanFleet said some employees expressed confusion last year over how Burgher uses information from the college’s strategic planning sessions. She said Burgher appreciated the input, and at last month’s strategic planning day explained how he compiles and uses data and information from those sessions.
Jina Paul, whose husband has battled brain cancer for 10 years, said she sought Burgher’s advice after she joined the college six years ago.
“He has helped us connect with the right doctors and the right people to get treatment for my husband,” said Paul, the college’s marketing director. “He just has a big, caring heart.”
Burgher, a pulmonologist, served previously as medical director of pulmonary medicine and critical care at Clarkson Hospital for more than two decades and was president of Clarkson Hospital when it merged with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1997. He then became president of the combined organization, Nebraska Health System, which eventually became Nebraska Medicine.
He also worked as medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska in the late 1980s and served as president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in the early 2000s.
Damewood, 48, called Burgher “the best boss I’ve ever had.”
Damewood, who has a Ph.D. in human capital management from Bellevue University, has worked at Clarkson about 16 years, including stints as admissions director, dean of enrollment management and vice president of operations.
“He’s been successful in all of those roles,” Burgher said.
Damewood is popular with staff and management and “does not take himself seriously, and I see that as a strong quality,” Burgher said.
Burgher said president emeritus status will give him a chance to pursue other interests, including spending time with 11 grandchildren. The avid skier had knee-replacement surgery last year and has scheduled a family ski trip to Colorado this season.
His doctor might not approve, Burgher said. The Clarkson president is a good listener, but he doesn’t take everyone’s advice.