St. Cloud Times – St. Cloud State University is 1,000 miles from an ocean, but its former president helped extend its reach around the globe.
Attendees to a memorial service for Earl H. Potter III on Friday said this. Multicultural blessings during the service supported the idea, as did the multiple international awards his university earned during his tenure.
Potter died Monday evening in a car crash. The 22nd president of St. Cloud State was 69.
On Friday, hundreds of family members, friends, co-workers and other associates assembled in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
After mingling for about an hour, a 30-minute program began with a presentation of colors.
Then members and alumni of the university concert choir sang the “Coast Guard Hymn.”
Potter served in the Coast Guard from 1969-93, retiring at the rank of captain.
Provost Ashish Vaidya, who is acting university president, welcomed the crowd and extended sympathy to Potter’s family, which was seated in front of the stage.
It was clear to anyone who worked with Potter that he loved them, Vaidya said.
The Rev. Chris Cortte, St. Cloud police chaplain, began a series of interfaith blessings by referring to Potter as “a dreamer.”
The crowd heard “Verses Left to Write.” Two St. Cloud State students, now graduates, created the song for Potter’s inauguration in 2008.
Earl H. Potter IV delivered a message on behalf of his family, thanking people for their support.
The program ended with the choir singing St. Cloud State’s “University Hymn.”
Before Friday’s event began, Shahzad Ahmad said for years to come, the school will reap benefits from the foundation Potter laid. The associate vice president said the university’s worldwide connections are unique for a small, comprehensive university in a small, Midwestern town.
Jesse Cashman, assistant vice president of safety and risk management, said Potter’s dedication to public safety brought him to St. Cloud State. The president knew a safe campus would keep the university vibrant and help with admissions, Cashman said.
He said most universities similar to St. Cloud State don’t include a position like his, Campus Area Police Services and other programs. They are testaments to Potter, Cashman said.
“I wondered when he slept,” said Sue Prout, who served as Potter’s executive assistant. She described his work ethic as “never ending.”
He didn’t always reveal his emotions, Prout said, as the president didn’t want that to influence matters at hand. But every once in a while, she said she heard his voice crack — and she knew why.
While sharing memories of Potter, Prout’s own voice cracked, and she began to sob. She described the necklace hanging around her neck. The pendant was the same stone as Potter’s presidential medallion, she said, but the chain was finer.
“He said I was finer,” Prout said through tears.
Judith Siminoe, special adviser to the president, said she learned much from Potter after he hired her in 2008.
Siminoe said the president’s wisdom also spread to students, and she shared a story from 2010.
Potter received an email from a student who was unhappy with a professor, Siminoe said. The president replied and told the student he knows much about the subject she was studying.
After Friday’s program, James Khat referred to Potter as his best friend and uncle. The native of South Sudan graduated from St. Cloud State in 2011. He returned to his native country but is back in Minnesota for a master’s program.
Khat said one day he went to Potter’s office without an appointment. The president welcomed him and asked what he needed help with.
Sylvester Lamin said Potter was always encouraging to student organizations. The social work professor said the president was a humble, honest, grounded person who could relate to people.
“He always knew me by name,” Lamin said.
St. Cloud State Faculty Association President Tom Hergert said Potter was always gracious and willing to listen. He and the president didn’t always agree, Hergert said, but they understood each other.
Because we’re just doing our jobs, he replied.
St. Cloud State has set up two websites with tributes and more material related to Potter: http://scsu.mn/EHPIIIcondolences and http://scsu.mn/EHPIII.
His funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, St. Cloud.