Jon Wallace’s retirement announcement caught many by surprise, but it’s something he’s been thinking of for some time.
It’s one word that’s certainly floating around Azusa Pacific’s campus after President Jon Wallace announced his retirement on April 18 via email and a video shared on social media. Wallace has served as APU’s president for 18 years. He will serve one final year before officially stepping down on June 30, 2019.
“As you get older, you think about, ‘what might I do next,’” Wallace said. “[My wife], Gail, and I have probably been thinking about what God would have for us for several years now. I’m 64 right now; I’ll be 65 next year, so it’s been for a couple of years now.”
In his email, Wallace opened up by saying that he’s been at APU for over five decades now, first as a student, then a custodian, an assistant track coach and, of course, the president. Wallace said it felt like it was time to move on to what comes next.
“I’ve been here a long time, and in my journey of faith, I’ve tried to be receptive to when I think the Spirit of God is nudging. What I was sensing was that it was time to shift out of this high gear that I’ve been in for 18 years — a lot of long weeks, weekends and evenings — and I think it was really in response to how I understood the Holy Spirit guiding me,” Wallace said. “Certainly, I have a lot of mixed feelings about that, and I’ll probably live by the river of denial, but I won’t worry about that until sometime in May or June of next year.”
Although he will be stepping down as president, Wallace will still remain on campus for a new kind of role. In the video, he said that he will still speak at chapel from time to time and still lead his small group. However, he’s not entirely sure of what his new day-to-day will look like.
“I love talking to students and passing on what I think is wisdom and discernment. I love teaching; I’ll teach the ethics class in the fall and maybe the spring,” Wallace said. “Really, the new president doesn’t need me in close proximity at all.”
In his final year as president, Wallace explained he simply wants to see the university continue to grow as it has over the course of his presidency.
“The forward momentum of the university needs to continue, and we have a couple building projects that I’d like to see wrapped up and completed,” Wallace said. “The growth that is happening within our regional sites with graduate and professional students, I know that will continue. I’d love to see programs that are on the drawing board implemented; I would love to see Los Angeles Pacific University, which was created about five years ago, continue its growth.”
While Wallace focused on growth for the university, he said he mainly wants to finish strong personally. This coincidentally came a few days after Wallace spoke at chapel, where he opened with a clip from the movie, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” In this clip, Blart fell just short of the finish line. Wallace said that this should be inspiration for all of us to finish well.
“Mostly, I don’t want to drop the ball between now and June 30, 2019. I want to finish well, and I’ll probably be looking at that pretty close, but I look forward to seeing who God’s going to bring as the next president,” Wallace said.
At the top of his retirement announcement email, Wallace included the Bible verse Galatians 2:20. The verse reads, “. . . and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“Galatians 2:20 is my life verse. I love that verse and I love that we identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that our life that we now live is a resurrected life in living for his purposes,” Wallace said. “It was perfect for me as the life verse that has guided me and continues to guide me as we think about the next chapter.”
This verse seems apt to describe Wallace. He has been a part of APU for twice as long as most of the students have been alive, living as an example of a Christian leader.
“I stayed in Azusa because I was continuously chosen. To be chosen as custodian, that was really cool. I’ve gone from campus security, to the cafeteria, the bookstore and the print shop, and then the dean of students and then chapel,” Wallace said. “When you’re chosen it means that someone believes in you enough to let you fail, and we’ve seen a lot of growth that was in place because we took some risks on some new programs or new ways to think about the student journey.”
As a part of the university in so many different roles, it’s hard not to think about the legacy Wallace will leave. He laughed at the legacy topic, having already giving it serious contemplation.
“I hope that [my legacy] is already in place, and I hope it’s with a whole bunch of students who have come through that I’ve known or that have known me from a distance,” Wallace said. “I hope the legacy is what other people have seen in me, more than buildings or programs or campuses, and I hope it’s a legacy that you guys leave, that the people you’re close to remember how you treated them and that without regard, you loved them. That would be a great legacy.”
One of the things Wallace is best known for is being a friendly face on campus. Students will stop him on Cougar Walk just to say hi. They’ll come up to him in dining venues and have short conversations.
The APU student body has recognized him for 18 years. This is the second longest an APU president has served–only Cornelius Haggard having served longer. The next president will certainly have big shoes to fill. Wallace said he has no idea who the next president will be, but he trusts the board of trustees to pick the right person.
“We have amazing men and women who are the trustees of the university; they are the ones who chose me and they will choose the next president. They really don’t need my advice on that,” Wallace said. “What would I hope for the next president? Wisdom beyond their years, a deep love for God, everybody is their neighbor and a vision for what education in 10 years will look like, because it’s different today than what it was 10 years ago. It should be somebody that the faculty, alumni and students can give full support to.”
After naming the characteristics that he’d like to see in the next president, Wallace said that he is already praying for her or him.
“I prayed for my children before they were born. I prayed for my grandchildren before they were born. Gail and I regularly remember God’s faith, and even now, Gail and I are praying for who this next president is. Even though we don’t know who she or he is, it’s going to be fun to see who God brings,” Wallace said.
Besides being a friendly face around campus, Wallace is mainly known for one thing, or rather one word: shalom.
Wallace’s face brightened at the mention of the word he uses so often. It’s a Hebrew word for peace, prosperity and harmony, among other things. Wallace uses shalom to end every email he sends and chapel that he speaks at.
“That word is an expression of what wholeness means, which is why it’s often understood in light of peace, because if you have something that is broken or torn and you bring wholeness to it, then there’s peace,” Wallace said. “It’s God’s perfect shalom, his redemptive plan for the world we aspire to. I needed one word a long time ago that could capture where I hope we go, and it’s shalom. It’s a greeting and a benediction in the modern Middle East and in my many great communities, so I think it’s a good one for me and for our community.”