JOPLIN, Mo. —
Tributes flowed Saturday when more than 250 people gathered at Missouri Southern State University to honor Julio Leon and to mark the naming of a campus building in honor of the former longtime university president.
“Visionary” was the word most frequently repeated by speakers in describing Leon’s leadership during a banquet held on the campus.
Leon was at the helm when what was then Missouri Southern State College was elevated to university status, they noted, and he also oversaw growth on the campus, including the construction of 16 buildings. Leon joined the university in 1976, first as a faculty member in the business department and later as dean. He was named president of the college in 1982 and served for 25 years before resigning in 2007.
The health sciences building, which was on the drawing board before his departure, now will be named the Julio S. Leon Health Sciences Center.
Interim President Alan Marble served as master of ceremonies.
The ceremony included a video tribute to Leon and his wife, Vivian, and remarks from Bill Putnam and Cynthia Schwab, both former members of the Board of Regents; Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies; and John Tiede, a former business department professor and senior vice president at the university.
Putnam noted Leon served as interim president before regents named him to lead the institution.
“He was truly the right choice at the right time. We had his leadership for 25 years, and MSSU today is a reflection of that vision,” he said.
Leon also started the university’s international mission, which now has grown into the Institute of International Studies.
“It was his vision to give every student a global experience. Nearly 3,000 MSSU students have studied abroad,” Stebbins said.
In remarks prior to the banquet, Leon discussed his affection for the university and said the idea that a building is to be named in his honor “still hasn’t fully sunk in.
“But to be recognized this way is fantastic; it’s a great honor,” he said.
He also paid tribute to former legislators who were supportive of the university financially and in advancing its status during this tenure, particularly former state Sen. Richard Webster, of Carthage, and former state Rep. Gary Burton, of Carl Junction.
Leon now is special adviser to the executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas system, in charge of creating a university and medical school in South Texas. The new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will open in August 2015.
Saturday’s program also included a piano performance by Seth Ernst in honor of Vivian Leon, who founded the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition.