Editor’s note: This interview is part three of a series honoring President Joseph M. Stowell as he retires from his position as university president and takes a new position as president emeritus. In this article, Cindy Wiltheiss (B.S. ’19), director of food service, reflects on Dr. Stowell’s impact among staff, faculty and students.
CU: Tell me about the first time you met Joe.
CW: I was actually introduced to him through a book I was reading at Cornerstone’s Professional & Graduate Studies called “The Weight of Your Words.” I knew that book quite well, so when I got to meet him in person, I was like, “Wow.” What he says, he does. Meeting him was everything I thought it would be. It’s great when you finally get to meet the author of a book you love!
CU: How did you see Joe have a positive impact on staff and faculty?
CW: Dr. Stowell and I both believe in community. One of our first discussions was how we could make Cornerstone’s community stronger. That involved getting rid of most of the to-go containers in the cafeteria so everyone would have to eat in the dining room. We built a strong community in months by implementing that. The students stayed to eat their meals together. It was a nice change to move us forward. Joe knew that’s what we needed. He’s a man with a vision. He’s got this energy that’s so contagious—to see how much he puts toward moving forward that you want to go with him. Dr. Stowell sees that we’re all in this together. He motivates by serving others.
CU: Tell us one of your favorite “Joe” stories.
CW: I have several! One of my favorites was from a time when my budget was tight. I needed some new equipment and had to find it in my budget. To save money, I took away cafeteria trays. Dr. Stowell came to me one day and said, “I hope you know what you’re doing!” I responded, “If I don’t know what I’m doing, then you’re the one who needs to fire me!” That year, we ended up saving money because students were throwing away less food. With my new equipment, I made Joe one of his favorite meals, which is old-fashioned ham. I brought it to his office and said, “I won’t give you humble pie—I’ll give you ham!” From then on, he trusted me.
There’s so many “Joe” stories. He’s very spontaneous. Once, he wanted to be the “waiter” for the monthly M&Ms meeting [M&Ms stands for “Mountain Movers,” a prayer group that meets monthly at Cornerstone]. You’ve never seen older ladies have more fun in their entire life as the president of the university served them during their prayer time!
CU: In what ways did Joe reinvigorate the faith culture of campus?
CW: The students really wanted to hear Joe speak in chapel. He’s always been able to connect with everyone. He started his chapel messages with stories that caught your attention. You know he’s a man of faith because he really does walk his talk. He’s never too busy to pray with someone or give words of encouragement. He can always tell if someone needed a word or two.
One of his greatest blessings to campus was building the chapel. To me, that showed the Beltline what we were about. We needed that visual. I really believe that building is important. Everything Joe does, he does to glorify the Lord. I’m just so thankful that what he says, he does.
CU: How did you see students positively impacted by Joe over the years?
CW: The students always loved the Thanksgiving dinner! All of them wanted to get their selfies with him. He would work in the servery, but his line would get so long because people were taking selfies. I wanted more students to interact with him so I “demoted” him to the punch bowl! Every year, I made sure he knew who my student wait staff were so he could talk about them to guests. My students just loved that. It was very special to them.
Dr. Stowell also did his very best to show up to activities. The students really appreciated that. To me, it showed them that he took an interest beyond chapel or coming through the dining commons. He would even visit my student workers in the kitchen! They always thought it was so cool that he came to visit.
CU: What changes have you seen on campus during Joe’s presidency?
CW: I had to catch my breath when I found out we were remodeling the dining commons. Dr. Stowell had such a vision of where the money needed to be spent. I’ve always tried to stay up to date on what’s happening in food service at other schools. His vision for what we needed in the dining commons was incredible. We needed the students to know that we care about them in every part of their life. That was why he wanted everyone to speak up. He used to have open forums for faculty and staff in the dining commons, and once someone mentioned that the dorm rooms needed an upgrade. When that meeting was adjourned, he immediately took a walk through the dorms. He’s never let anyone wait.
That’s what I’m most thankful for. He was the president for the time. He brought hope and energy to campus. He approached the presidency with a can-do attitude. He always knew what needed to be done and he’s done it every time.