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Juan Olivarez is new Aquinas President

Juan Olivarez/Grand Rapids Press

The Grand Rapids Press just announced that Juan Olivarez is the new President of Aquinas College.

Dave Murray of the Press reports that Olivarez said be broke the news to his 91-year-old father that he’d be returning to Aquinas College after more 40 years, this time as president instead of the nervous freshman from Gary, Ind.

“My father told me, ‘You belong there,’ and I believe he was right,” Olivarez told gathered faculty, staff, trustees and students after being introduced as the college’s seventh president this morning.

Greeted warmly with cheers and a standing ovation, Olivarez recalled that he met his six predecessors– and even worked as a waiter at Norbert Hruby’s 1969 inauguration.

Olivarez, 61, a former Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher and Grand Rapids Community College president, returns to the city after serving for three years as president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

He replaces Edward Balog, who has held the post since 2007.
Monsignor William Duncan, who chairs the college’s board of trustees, called the appointment “a homecoming” for Olivarez, who he said was approved unanimously.

“Dr. Olivarez is so well-known in West Michigan, not just among educators but the broader community,” Duncan said. “This is a wonderful way to celebrate Aquinas’ 125th anniversary, and Dr. Olivarez is the right person to take the college into its next phase.
Olivarez is a 1971 graduate of the private, Catholic college.

That impressed current students, said Josh Theil, the Student Senate chair who served as one as eight members of the search committee.
Theil, a 21-year-old political science major, said about 25 students came back to campus on Friday to listen to Olivarez speak and offer feedback to the trustees.

“I was a freshman when he was at GRCC, so I’m already pretty familiar with him,” Theil said. “I think he’ll be a good fit here at Aquinas.”

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