The “This is Jon” celebration encompassed more than mere thank yous for Wallace’s 19 years as president and 43 years at APU, but a commemoration of who Wallace is as a servant of the Lord
The subtle sounds of sniffling and light sobbing filled Felix Event Center on Saturday as family, friends, students and colleagues gathered to say thank you and goodbye to long-time president and friend, Jon R. Wallace.
The event, titled “This is Jon: Celebrating 43 Years of Service,” truly was a celebration of Wallace’s incalculable accomplishments and life-changing relationships throughout the course of his four decades at Azusa Pacific and 19 years serving as APU’s president.
Speakers talked about the programs and facilities that Wallace created and expanded during his time at APU. A few of Wallace’s accomplishments included the construction of the Segerstrom Science Center, the Duke Academic Complex and the Dillon Recreation Center. Under Wallace’s leadership, APU also established international campuses in South Africa and Ecuador; launched Los Angeles Pacific University; built six regional campuses; expanded eight doctoral programs, 51 masters degrees and 88 bachelors degrees.
In addition, Wallace helped grow the student body to 5,000 undergraduates and 6,000 post graduates. According to Santiago Mellado, president of Compassion International, Wallace helped “this place to look more like heaven” with more than half of the student body being students of color.
Although these achievements are noteworthy, friends and colleagues suggested Wallace’s greatest gift was his time. Wallace made it a priority to develop real, personal relationships with members of the student body.
“One thing that is really special about Jon that you don’t see in a lot of university presidents is how much he engages with students,” said Geoff Spencer, associate director of Chapel Programs. “I don’t know how many presidents invite students to their homes, conduct d-groups with students and walk around and have a presence on campus where you can look at him, wave and say ‘Hi, Jon’ and he’ll come up and talk to you.”
Spencer said Wallace is different from most university presidents.
“Students don’t realize it often, but presidents at other universities don’t act like that all the time” Spencer said. “We have a very unique person and a very unique gift that Jon has given us by giving so much of his time and being so available for different people… that is a huge gift.”
Wallace held many roles in his time at APU, including being a student, custodian, assistant track coach and senior seminar professor. He also led a men’s discipleship group (d-group).
D-group members expected to listen to Wallace’s unceasing wisdom, to receive answers to every question, problem and hardship they had experienced and every now and then listen to a corny dad joke. Yet, it was Wallace who did the listening. He brought humility instead of answers.
“It’s his group. He says it’s ours, but it’s his as much as it is ours,” said John Breslow, a senior business economics major. “He leads [d-group] really well by starting with conversation and listening. He can listen to something that is not even said. He listens for the pause, he listens to the cadence. If it is possible, he probably listens to our hearts. It’s almost scary how intuitive he is with the group.”
Wallace practices attentiveness, humility and agape love. Every year, he exhibits these traits during Walkabout, a 10-day wilderness leadership training program designed to equip resident advisors for service.
Judson Lim, assistant director of campus recreation, shared an experience during Walkabout where he witnessed Wallace’s agape love for others.
During one Walkabout trip, Lim was instructed to make Wallace’s experience as seamless as possible. Wallace was not to want for anything. With this in mind, Lim spoke with Wallace to see if he needed anything. Wallace said that he was well, but a bit hungry. So, they made camp and Wallace proceeded to make dinner for the entire group, as was tradition.
After serving every student dinner before himself, Wallace was left with what little food was on the bottom of the pot. As he went to serve himself, a student called out, “Is there any food left for seconds?” Instead of responding, “No,” Wallace gave the remainder of the food to the student and went to bed hungry that night.
“Good leaders eat last,” Lim said. “But great leaders are willing to not even eat at all.”
The two hour event was full of laughter, tears and — after Wallace took to the stage — applause that could have lasted hours. But the presentation was more than a celebration of Wallace’s victories as president. It was a celebration of a job well done, a celebration of who Wallace has become in Christ and a celebration for the future of APU.