Educator helped save struggling university


POSTED: Sunday, January 04, 2009

Credited with reviving Chaminade University after becoming its president 13 years ago, Mary “;Sue”; Civille Wesselkamper died yesterday, succumbing to cancer.

She died at about 3:45 a.m. yesterday at her home, surrounded by family and friends. She was 66. Services are pending.

Wesselkamper was the first female university president in Hawaii, and the first female president of a Catholic Marianist university. University officials say she was the driving force of Chaminade's recent successful fundraising campaign, generating more than $66 million in the past nine years.

“;She instilled in students, faculty and the entire Chaminade family the importance of personal integrity, humility and public service,”; Gov. Linda Lingle, a friend, said in a written statement.

Wesselkamper moved to Hawaii in 1995 from the College of New Rochelle in New York, where she was dean of arts and sciences.

Back then, the school faced a $4.3 million debt and a low enrollment of about 630. University officials said closure was a “;distinct possibility.”; The debt was erased, and the university now has 2,701 students, according to its Web site.

The money Wesselkamper helped to raise over the years paid for capital renovations and expansion. In April, the school dedicated its Sullivan Family Library, the largest facility on campus.

“;President Sue, as we all endearingly referred to her, taught us to embrace our mission and identity as a Marianist University,”; said Chaminade's acting president, Brother Bernard Ploeger. “;She was deeply committed to this university and centered our focus on always serving our students well. We will miss her keenly.”;

Wesselkamper took a leave of absence in the fall due to a reoccurrence of cancer. She underwent surgery for bile duct cancer in 2005.

The university gave her an honorary doctorate at its winter commencement ceremonies on Dec. 15 and announced plans to rename the science building the Wesselkamper Science Center.

“;She showed tremendous courage and determination to win her battle against cancer, and never complained,”; Lingle said.

Shortly after she took the helm, Wesselkamper told the Star-Bulletin about her vision of education.

“;We have to change,”; Wesselkamper said then, “;in order that we can continue to offer what is the unchangeable essence of universities - to be centers of discourse which prepare students to contribute positively and effectively to the intellectual, social and moral fabric of our society.”;

University of Hawaii President David McClain offered condolences in a written statement, calling her an “;outstanding university president and a dear friend.”;

“;Her expertise, charisma and passion took Chaminade University to new heights, both academically and financially,”; McClain said. “;I valued our partnership, and benefited greatly from her advice and counsel.”;

Wesselkamper was an inspiration to students, said Chaminade senior Cedric Panganiban. He was involved in the fall production of “;Amadeus,”; and he was touched that she attended despite her illness.

“;She's very dedicated,”; said the accounting major.