BLAIR, Neb. — The doors are locked, the grass is high and a ghostly quiet blankets the defunct Dana College campus.
Marv Overman wants to help bring the place back to life with a Christian school called Charis University, the offspring of Grace University, another defunct college.
But the challenges are great if Overman, Charis’ acting president, intends to fulfill the goal of opening in August. The biggest, perhaps, calls for raising a few hundred thousand dollars in the next several weeks just to open and about $1 million to cover the first year.
“The outcome is not mine. It’s something I’m doing for the Lord,” said Overman, a 67-year-old management consultant and financial adviser who was the dean of Grace’s college of continuing education. “I can’t control everything.”
Overman also must send application papers within days to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. The commission requires a public hearing, committee scrutiny and approval, on July 26, from the full commission.
The commission wants to see the proposed new institution’s intent, programs, facilities, need, an indication of expected enrollment and evidence that the university can be sustained for the long run.
Kathleen Fimple, the commission’s academic programs officer, said she would need Charis’ application within the next few days. Time, Fimple said, is growing short for Overman.
Overman also needs to negotiate a lease agreement with the owner of the Dana College property, Angels Share of Omaha. Angels Share, an organization that serves low-income elderly people and young people coming out of foster care, will provide to its clients jobs in the vicinity and housing on and near the campus.
The previous owner of the Dana property, Omaha developer Frank Krejci, donated the place to Angels Share because he liked its mission. Ed Shada of Angels Share said that his work is separate from Charis and that his programs will get started within a few months with or without the university.
“His heart is great,” Shada said of Overman. “What he wants to do conceptually is terrific.” But Shada said there is no question that Overman has a huge job to get the money and approval for his university.
Charis (pronounced CARE-us and CAR-us) is Greek for grace.
Dana College closed in 2010, and Grace University south of downtown Omaha shut down this year after 75 years. Some from Grace have direct ties to the Charis effort.
The members of Charis’ interim advisory board are Grace alums, Overman said. He wants to hire an academic vice president and a vice president for student life from Grace’s past.
Overman and others envision offering a variety of programs. They want to use much, but not all, of the Dana campus.
Their programs would include Christian ministry, fine arts and teacher education. They also would offer trades, apprenticeships and training for companies, life transitions help, online courses, programs with two-way livestreaming, two-year programs, four-year programs and graduate work. They plan to reach out to rural Nebraska and South Dakota with online and live interactive programs.
They intend to use faculty, upperclassmen and grad school students as mentors and utilize many students as staffers to keep costs down. A culinary training program would operate the campus dining facility.
Advisory board member Greg Koehn of Omaha said he believes there is a place for a university of spiritual training, mentoring and trades.
“I’m convinced there’s still a niche for that, or a market,” Koehn said.
Overman said that if he had to wait another year before Charis started, it would be disappointing. “I’ve had a lot of disappointment in 67 years.”
As Overman walked across campus this week, he noted how beautiful it was. He also cited more concerns — how much cleaning and upkeep will buildings need? Does the boiler on campus work? How much tuition would generate enough revenue but still keep Charis reasonably priced?
It’s a big task. Faith, he said, should help him get it done.