Ozarks loses one of its "giants" as former President Ehren passes away at age 83

Release Date: 10/31/2012

The University lost a beloved member of its family when former president Dr. Fritz H. Ehren '53 of Clarksville passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, at Johnson Regional Medical Center at the age of 83. The service will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at First Presbyterian Church, located at 212 N. College Ave., in Clarksville.

Dr. Fritz H. Ehren

Dr. Fritz H. Ehren, a 1953 graduate of Ozarks, served as the University's 22nd president from 1982-1990.

Dr. Ehren was associated with Ozarks for more than 60 years, including a tenure as the University's 22nd president from 1982-1990. A 1953 graduate of Ozarks, Dr. Ehren also served the college as a baseball and football coach, admission counselor, dean of students, academic dean and vice president for academic affairs. After retiring in 1990, he remained a steadfast champion for the university, serving on the Alumni Board and athletic booster club and attending numerous campus events each year.

"If there ever was a person who represented the very fiber of Ozarks, that man was Dr. Fritz Ehren," said U of O President Dr. Rick Niece. "He epitomized Ozarks' mission statement, modeled our ideals, and lived the very essence of our core values. Other than my father, I have admired no other person more than I admired Fritz Ehren. A born leader, he used his leadership abilities to the fullest extent: college president, community pacesetter, and Presbyterian Church elder. No person could give back more to a campus, to a town, and to a church than Fritz Ehren did. Dr. Fritz Ehren touched many lives during his lifetime. I am blessed to have been graced by that touch.

Juanita and Fritz Ehren

Dr. Fritz Ehren and wife Juanita at a recent alumni weekend.

A native of Texas, Dr. Ehren moved to Booneville, Ark., before his freshman year in high school. After a three-year stint in the Air Force following high school, he enrolled at Ozarks with three of his siblings in 1949, beginning a long association with the college. He also met his wife of 62 years, Juanita Blackard, at Ozarks.

During his tenure as president, Dr. Ehren helped transform the campus, leading efforts to add the Walton Fine Arts Center and the Jones Learning Center and expand Mabee Gymnasium. Under his leadership, Ozarks secured the Walton International Scholarship Program in 1985 and underwent a name change from The College of the Ozarks to University of the Ozarks in 1987. The university's endowment also grew from $2 million to more than $18 million under his tenure.

"Dr. Ehren raised hopes and renewed determination for all of us in one of the darkest times for Ozarks," said Political Science Professor Gilbert Parks, who has taught at Ozarks since 1964. "He placed us on a pathway to sustainable growth. His warm smile and capacity to calm the troubled waters led to finding workable solutions when options were few and too costly. Ozarks would not be, but for his dedication and skills to provide a renewal of our mission. This is an understatement of his contribution to all of us and the wider community. Thank you Dr. Fritz Ehren. You were a worthy mentor for Ozarks."

In a 2005 interview with the U of O alumni magazine, Today, Dr. Ehren said one of his goals when he became president was to improve the facilities at the college.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Walton Fine Arts Building

Dr. Ehren (left) and Mrs. Helen Walton (center) address the campus community during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Walton Fine Arts Building.

"One of the things I mentioned in my inaugural address was that I wanted to get rid of all the old frame buildings on campus and replace them with nice, permanent buildings," Ehren said. "With the help of numerous supporters and foundations, we were able to make big strides in the area of campus facilities. The contributions of Mrs. Helen Walton and her family, who provided the funds to build the Walton Fine Arts Center, were extremely beneficial during difficult times for the university. Through the Mabee Foundation we were able to expand the gymnasium, and Mrs. Harvey Jones contributed the funds to help build and equip the Jones Learning Center. And there were many, many other friends and alumni who helped us grow and improve during those years."

Fritz Ehren

Ehren played football for Ozarks and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams.

Under Dr. Ehren's leadership, the university also placed a new emphasis on reconnecting with its alumni. He established the school's first Alumni Board and hired a full-time alumni director.

"At Ozarks, we've been fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants and Dr. Fritz Ehren is the tallest among them," said Steve Edmisten, executive vice president emeritus.

Dr. Ehren served as a baseball coach, assistant football coach and one-person admissions office in the 1950s for Ozarks. He was later dean of students from 1967-69, academic dean from 1969-72 and vice president for academic affairs from 1972-75. In 1975 he left Ozarks to become the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Central Arkansas, but returned to his alma mater in 1982 to take over the college's presidency.

Ehren with his airplane.

Dr. Ehren was an avid pilot who obtained his multi-engine rating in the 1980s.

One of the first major issues Dr. Ehren faced when he took over the presidency was a proposed five percent decrease in salaries for university personnel because of budget constraints.

"That was causing a big morale problem, and I wanted to try to restore the salary cut," Ehren said in the 2005 interview. "Juanita and I went to Northwest Arkansas and visited with Mrs. Walton about the situation. I told her I thought we could raise the money, but that I needed her to underwrite the commitment if, for some reason, we couldn't raise the money. She agreed to do that. We were able to raise the money and keep the salaries intact, which I think impressed Mrs. Walton. That really helped to improve morale on campus as well."

Dr. Ehren was a standout football player for Ozarks, earning 1953 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference Back of the Year after rushing for a then AIC record 1,161 yards. His 121 points scored that year remained an AIC record until the conference disbanded in the early 1990s. In 1971 he was inducted into the NAIA Football Hall of Fame and in 1990 he was a member of the inaugural class of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame. After his college career, he went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Rams and played in two exhibition games before being released.

"It was probably for the best," Dr. Ehren said in the 2005 interview. "At the time the highest-paid Ram was Norm Van Brocklin who had a salary of $25,000 a year. In later years, I visited with some of the old pro players, and they nearly all had serious physical disabilities from playing professional football."

In a 1987 speech during the name change ceremony at Ozarks, Dr. Ehren talked about his love for Ozarks.

"A declaration of purpose for the new university will first assure observers that the traditional mission will not change," he said. "Ozarks will remain a place where God is loved and Christ is worshipped in an atmosphere leading to intellectual, spiritual and physical well-being."

"... Our purpose will be to prepare students to realize that the tragedy of life is not death, but: commitments undefined, convictions undeclared and service unfulfilled. I trust all who love this great institution as I do will join me in striving to see the declaration of purpose is indeed realized as we soar to new heights."