President Ribeau chats with students at his farewell picnic.

President Ribeau chats with students at his farewell picnic.

Ribeau encourages campus to uphold ideals at farewell picnic

After 13 years, it’s hard to say goodbye, but the campus and community gathered with President Sidney Ribeau and Paula Whetsel-Ribeau July 8 to reminisce and celebrate their time together before the Ribeaus leave for Washington, D.C., and their new lives at Howard University.

President Ribeau reminisces about his 13 years at BGSU while Paula Whetsel-Ribeau looks on.

The mood was both festive and bittersweet at the farewell picnic under a tent on the University Hall lawn. About 800 people—including faculty, staff, students, retirees, past and present trustees, community members and government officials—were on hand to wish the couple well and enjoy a last meal together. As Ribeau recalled, the picnic was appropriate because it was the way the campus had celebrated his inauguration in 1995 on a sunny September day. “They asked if I wanted a fancy dinner with chandeliers, and I said that’s really not my style,” he said.

“Transitions are always hard, but this transition has been particularly difficult for us,” he acknowledged. “Bowling Green State University in 1995 believed in me, and I promised with all my heart, soul and spirit to do the best I could to make a difference.”

Board of Trustees members John Moore (left) and William Primrose (striped shirt), along with Diana Primrose (orange shirt), enjoy the remarks at the picnic.

Ribeau reiterated his guiding belief that any person—no matter what creed, race or color—deserves the chance to improve his or her life through education, and that in a democratic republic, citizens have the responsibility to help create a better quality of life for all. Referring to his earlier statement on “good hearts, able minds, the capacity to change the world,” the president reminded those gathered that each person has something valuable to contribute.

“This is the beginning of a very exciting period for BGSU, and it is the conclusion of the most significant and meaningful period of my life,” he said.

It was Ribeau’s belief in the power to achieve that many of the speakers and guests cited as his most notable characteristic. “We used to say ‘We can’t,’” remembered Michael Marsh, immediate past president of the board of trustees and a member of the committee that hired Ribeau. “But he instilled in us that we can, from building a new student union when everyone said we couldn’t, to increasing enrollment and retention,” to raising double the money the fund-raising experts said was possible for the capital campaign. “It’s that attitude that is still here today,” Marsh said. “Together we can still make BGSU great. He did it and everyone in this room did it, too.”

President Ribeau shares a moment with basketball team members.

Students fondly recalled the times they had spent with Ribeau, his founding of the President’s Leadership Academy and other student-focused initiatives, and noted he never lost his connection with them. Bernard Little, former president of Undergraduate Student Government, said of his time working with the president, “it was always a pleasure. He always made time for students—that’s the number-one thing in higher education. You could never find a better student advocate.”

Ribeau’s stature as a leader and the respect he earned in Columbus earned praise from Ohio Sen. Mark Wagoner (R-2nd District) and Rep. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), who presented him a plaque unanimously endorsed by state legislators. “We will always remember his passionate and powerful voice for higher education in Columbus,” Wagoner said.

Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, who met and married her husband while he was BGSU president, earned a doctorate and went to work in student affairs, said she had only recently been able to come to grips with the move after all the friendship and support she had found at BGSU. “It’s been a privilege and an honor to have had the opportunity to work with you all and to get to know you beyond the workplace,” she said. She urged the campus to be positive and always take a moment to reflect on being part of the answer and not of the problem.

July 14, 2008