Physically tiny and looking a decade younger than her 65 years, Concordia College President Pamela Jolicoeur exuded energy far out of proportion to her size.

Jolicoeur, who died unexpectedly Wednesday of a stroke, used her energy to leave a tremendous impact on Concordia, as well as the entire Fargo-Moorhead community, say those who knew her well.

"President Jolicoeur led this college in a position of driving it for excellence. That excellence was for everybody, from the staff, to the board, to its students," Ron Offutt, chairman of the Concordia College Board of Regents, said Wednesday.

"The Concordia community has lost a great leader today," he added. "It sits in shock and awe of the events of the day."

Offutt spoke at an impromptu news conference held at Concordia, not far from Jolicoeur's campus home, where she suffered the stroke early Wednesday.

Offutt informed the Concordia community of what happened to Jolicoeur via e-mails Wednesday morning, and he sent follow-up messages in the afternoon to tell of her death.

With Concordia on summer break, the campus was hushed and deserted Wednesday evening as Offutt was joined by Concordia Provost Mark Krejci to talk about what Jolicoeur meant to the college.

"As we enter this time of mourning, we cherish the life of Pamela Jolicoeur. Her warm and generous spirit was such a joy to be around. We're just deeply saddened," Krejci said.

Jolicoeur leaves behind a husband, Michael, and daughter Jessica.

'Friend and colleague'

News of Jolicoeur's death spread quickly.

Edna Szymanski, president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, got the word while she was out of town for a meeting.

"I've lost both a friend and a colleague. And that's very hard," Szymanski said by phone Wednesday afternoon, adding that she and Jolicoeur would sometimes brainstorm problems they were dealing with.

"A presidency isn't the easiest job, and often one feels somewhat alone," Szymanski said. "The fact I could call Pam and have her wisdom was always a very comforting thought."

The Concordia Board of Regents selected Jolicoeur as the school's 10th president in 2004.

It was the first time a woman had been named to the post.

Roger Gilbertson, a former member of the board of regents, headed the search committee that helped bring Jolicoeur to Moorhead.

He described her Wednesday as "an outstanding president and an outstanding person."

Career highlights

A former Catholic nun, Jolicoeur joined California Lutheran University in 1972 as a sociology professor and worked her way up the academic ladder.

She served as chair of CLU's sociology department from 1979 to 1983 and later became assistant dean as well as associate dean.

Jolicoeur served as vice president for academic affairs at CLU from 1993 to 1996, when she was named CLU provost, the school's No. 2 post.

During her tenure at Concordia, Jolicoeur helped to complete a $100 million capital campaign, which included the construction of the Knutson Campus Center, which at $32 million was the most expansive and priciest construction project in the school's history.

In 2008, Jolicoeur was named chairwoman of the Minnesota Private College Council, Fund and Research Foundation, which represents 17 liberal arts colleges and universities in the state. It raises funds to support operating costs and need-based scholarships.

She also served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media; and the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

Jolicoeur was one of a select group of college presidents invited by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to take part in a summit on international education.

She was also part of an international conference that explored ways to strengthen ties between American and Muslim colleges and universities.

'Room to grow'

Asked in a 2007 interview about Concordia's role in the world of higher education, Jolicoeur answered:

"We're a good place to send a young man or woman who really wants to make a difference in the world, wants to have their best drawn out from them and wants to give.

"Our niche," she added, "is not taking the very smartest students and turning out the smartest students. It is taking students who have room to grow."

Remembrance today

Concordia faculty, students and staff are invited to an informal gathering of prayer and remembrance at 10 a.m. today in Anderson Commons, Knutson Campus Center.

Remembering Jolicoeur

Friends and colleagues of Concordia President Pamela Jolicoeur remembered her Wednesday as a dynamic leader whose legacy will long be remembered.

The following is what some of them had to say following Jolicoeur's death from a stroke Wednesday morning:

"This is a devastating day for all of us in the Concordia community." - Ron Offutt, chairman of the Concordia College Board of Regents

"Extraordinary leader and a truly wonderful person. She was a gem."

North Dakota East Central District Court Judge Wade Webb, a 1992 graduate of Concordia and a former president of the college's alumni board.

"This is a sad time for the community. Pam was a great president. Folks who have been in the area much longer than I have all talk about what a nice job she had been doing leading Concordia and how much of a difference she had made in the time she was there." - Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski

"Today is a day of mourning. We'll move forward in the future, when it's appropriate." - Mark Krejci, Concordia provost

Jolicoeur timeline

Significant dates in the career of Concordia College President Pamela Jolicoeur:

  • 1972: Joins the sociology faculty of California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks
  • 1993-1996: Serves as CLU vice president for academic affairs
  • 1996-2004: Serves as provost and dean of the faculty at CLU
  • July 2004: Becomes the 10th president of Concordia College, the first woman to hold the job
  • 2008: Named chairwoman of the Minnesota Private College Council, Fund and Research Foundation, which represents 17 liberal arts colleges and universities in the state

    Forum News Director Steve Wagner contributed to this report

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555