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Mayville State goes from surviving to thriving

Mayville State University President Gary Hagen's career is winding down after more than 40 years on campus, the last 12 as President. He will be retiring at the end of the month. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald 1 / 2
Mayville State University President Gary Hagen visits with Michael Slaba, right, and Kyle O'Brien, background, as the students plant perennials in the flowerbeds of Old Main administration building Friday. Hagen will be retiring at the end of the month. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald 2 / 2

MAYVILLE, N.D.—In 1976, Gary Hagen told his wife, Debbie, that they'd spend one, maybe two years at Mayville.

He'd do a bit of teaching, gain a little experience at Mayville State, and then they'd move on somewhere else in life. Forty-two years later, though, the Hagens still call Mayville home.

Hagen, who has served as the university's president for the last 12 years, is retiring at the end of the month, closing a chapter in his life that spans more than four decades. Brian Van Horn will be taking over as the leader of the school July 1.

Hagen said he's not one to stop and reflect much, but recently, he had the chance to slow down and think back on the last 42 years.

"My wife said the other night, 'We're going to get in the car, and I'm driving' and she never drives. But I said, 'Where are we going?' 'You'll see,' " Hagen said with a chuckle. "So she stopped at the corner (by the university), and she went all the way along and she said 'I want you to think back now because you're quitting.' And I thought, 'Wow, a lot's happened.' A person should stop and do that now and then."

Before Hagen took over as president in 2006, Mayville State was struggling in many aspects including decreased enrollment and a high percentage of deferred maintenance on campus.

However, since 2008 the university has increased enrollment 44 percent and has seen a 220 percent increase in distance learners; transfer students also are up 153 percent, according to university data. Buildings also have been torn down, and new ones have opened over the past few years.

Hagen started his career at Mayville State in 1976 as a business instructor. He was a graduate teaching assistant at UND when Mayville State called trying to hire a new instructor for the upcoming school year.

In the past 42 years, Hagen has held various positions at the school, including chairman of the business department and vice president for academic affairs.

The students and the community were two of the driving factors that kept the family in Mayville and why the Hagens will continue to call the small town of 2,000 people home.

"I'm going to miss walking through campus and seeing students," he said. "I've had a very good working relationship with my staff, and it's fun to work with all of these people. I really like working with the community and donors."

Hagen said he also enjoys working with legislators in Bismarck on a variety of higher education issues.

Mary Trudeau, the president's executive assistant, said she has "thoroughly enjoyed" working for Hagen for nearly six years.

"My position has given me insights into the careful consideration and thoughtfulness of planning and often difficult decisions made by President Hagen and his cabinet members," she said, adding that Hagen has been "the driving success of Mayville State."

"I know that his work with Mayville State will never truly end. He will continue to be a strong supporter—that's just the kind of person he is," she said.

Hagen said he and his wife plan on travelling and spending time with family during retirement. They also are preparing for a trip to Alaska with people connected with the university. Hagen previously has organized trips to Norway and Italy and has other trips planned for future years.

John Klocke, the executive director of the university's foundation since 2012, said he always appreciated Hagen for wanting to do things the right way and for being "a good steward of our resources," adding Hagen has always been "highly ethical and honest."

Before Hagen became president, Klocke said people often would wonder what the future held for Mayville State; now, however, that future is a lot brighter.

"Now we have a really strong future and a real positive, bright future," Klocke said. "We really do owe that to President Hagen. We're not surviving anymore, we're actually thriving."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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