Frank R. Barth, the tenth president of Gustavus Adolphus College, died on August 22, 2013, at Heritage Manor in Dubuque, Iowa. A longtime educator and business leader and the first non-clergy member to be elected to the presidency of Gustavus, he served the College from 1969 to 1975. He was 95 years old at the time of his death.
“The Gustavus family mourns the death of a distinguished and outstanding leader,” said current Gustavus President Jack R. Ohle. “President and Mrs. Barth served at Gustavus during a tumultuous time in our country’s history. They were a calming influence on campus during those very difficult years. He touched the lives of many students during his tenure as President. We will remember President Barth at the College’s Opening Convocation this coming Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Frank Barth was a financial executive with the Chicago-based Pettibone Corporation at the time of his selection and frequently quoted the Gustavian Weekly’s reaction to the announcement: “There’s a moneychanger in the Temple!” He assumed the presidency of the College as the country was becoming polarized over the issue of war in Indochina. Student activism was high, and presiding over a college in such uneasy times was difficult. In retrospect, one of Barth’s great accomplishments was that he kept a lid on things. He made it a point to know the students and to dialogue frequently with them. By not prohibiting or hindering protests, he helped to make them teachable moments.
Barth was born on March 19, 1918, in Chicago, and attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, paying tuition by working in the Business Department as well as taking many semesters off to work in Chicago. At Luther he met his wife, Marjorie Hove, and acquired a taste and love for academia.
He graduated from Luther in June 1940, married Marge on September 28, 1940, and in 1942 began teaching economics and business at Luther. His 11-year teaching career would be interrupted by three years’ service as a Naval air navigator in the Pacific during WWII. After WWII and after completing his MBA from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Frank became a CPA in 1947. In 1953 he left Luther and Decorah to become a financial consultant to the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., In October 1955 he returned to the Chicago area as financial vice president of Pettibone Corporation, a medium-sized manufacturer of heavy construction equipment and competitor to Caterpillar. He also served on the school board of Lake Forest, where his children went to high school.
Frank and Marge returned to academia in 1969 when Frank was recruited to be president of Gustavus. He and Marge, an active First Lady, made an engaging team. The couple was awarded the Greater Gustavus Award after he announced his resignation in 1975, as he had pledged when he assumed the presidency. They returned to Luther, where he taught as a professor of economics from 1977 to 1990 and served as vice president for finance and treasurer. Frank and Marge retired to Sun City, Ariz., in 1990 and in 2006 Frank completed a book of anecdotes and reminiscences stemming from his time at the helm of the College, titled A Place Called Gustavus: The Protest Years. The Barths finally moved to Dubuque, Iowa, in 2009 to be closer to family.
Frank is survived by his wife, their four adult children, 10 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
The Mankato Free Press printed a story about Frank Barth in its Aug. 27, 2013 edition.
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