By Marilyn Andersen Gift
On March 22, 2022, the Board of Trustees announced the selection of Dr. Rachelle Keck to succeed Kent Henning as president of Grand View University. She is the fourteenth president and the first woman to serve in this role in the college’s 126-year history. She previously served as President at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, after serving in Executive Vice President University Counsel and Chief of Staff roles at the university. Dr. Keck is known as a confident decision maker and visionary leader possessing strong problem-solving, organizational, and prioritization skills. Her experience in higher educational administration, philanthropy, and law in addition to her astute communication skills and ability to work collaboratively with others are foundational to visionary leadership. Dr. Keck is a purpose-driven Christian with a passion for helping others discern, develop, and claim their callings.
She has passionately shared her amazing faith journey from growing up as one of nine children to becoming a first-generation college student to earning the presidency at Grand View University. Along the way, God has guided her decisions as she moved up the career ladder. She earned a Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, degree from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in psychology with minors in business administration and sociology. She then earned her Juris Doctor degree, with distinction, from the University of Iowa College of Law. She earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Education from Drake University with a 4.0 GPA. Her impressive resume is available online here.
Keck first built a career as a lawyer. From an early age, those close to her identified her advocacy skills, honed in the midst of a large family and recommended law as a future career. She worked for four years as a prosecutor in Poweshiek County, Montezuma, Iowa and then in private practice for sixteen years. She managed her own law firm with a focus on real estate, abstracts, titles, probate, estate planning and corporate law.
As a member of the Wartburg College Board of Regents, she served on the college’s presidential search committee in 2007-2008. Some of the candidates had law degrees, and it was during this process an idea that she could become a college president was ignited. That was her “God” moment. She first sought the advice of people in the higher education industry to understand what working in higher education looks like. Those conversations solidified her determination and she set a course to achieve this new dream. From there, she became the Director of Planned Giving for the University of Iowa Foundation in Iowa City, Iowa, and, thereafter, the Executive Director of Philanthropy and Alumni Relations for Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. While working at Indian Hills, a friend told her about an interesting opportunity at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. She initially served as Chief of Staff and University Counsel for the university and was later elevated to Executive Vice President and then President of Briar Cliff University from 2018-2022.
The goal of becoming the president of a Lutheran University was the reason she pivoted from law to higher education. Keck was raised Lutheran and had a grandfather who was a Lutheran pastor. The fact that three of her and her husband’s four children live in the Des Moines metro area cemented her decision to apply for the presidency of Grand View. Grand View University is fortunate to have her leadership in the years ahead.
Dr. Keck officially became Grand View’s president on July 1, 2022, and quickly provided various opportunities to connect with alumni and the community through “Meet the President” events. These opportunities included The Viking Golf Classic, a worship service at Luther Memorial Church and ice cream social, a question and answer social at the West End Salvage coffee bar, socializing together with her husband Jim and dog Hava at Kinship Brewing and dog park, and welcoming friends and alumni at the Iowa State Fair Grand View University booth.
The official inauguration for Dr. Keck occurred during the five days of Homecoming festivities. “Honoring the Past, Celebrating our Present, Igniting our Future” was the title of her message for the 1896 Club and Inauguration Dinner on Thursday, September 29, 2022. This theme was evident in every Homecoming and Inauguration event.
“Honoring the Past” began with the Drinks and Hymns sing-along held at the Luther Memorial Lutheran Church Community Room on Wednesday to kick off the festivities. The room was decorated with Danish flags across the room. Students and adults enjoyed beer, root beer and popcorn while singing robustly. Selections from the World of Song included favorites such as “The Danish Hiking Song,” "There’s No Grandma Just Like Mine” and others that are so often enjoyed by the Grundtvigian Danes. Other selections to celebrate inclusiveness included, “Vive La Compagnie,” “Danny Boy,” and “Molly Malone.” The evening festivities concluded with “The Doxology.” Both Rachelle and her husband, Jim, “the First Dude,” seemed to really enjoy singing together and getting to know everyone.
The Danish Brotherhood Lodge #15 in Des Moines invited Dr. Keck to present the program for the October meeting. The Danish Brotherhood wants the relationship between Grand View and the Danish connection to remain strong. She shared much of her personal story and faith that led to becoming president of Grand View. She shared that Grand View is beginning conversations to add a doctorate program to the university academic offerings. When asked about fundraising and the endowment, she shared that fundraising is certainly in her wheelhouse and she is excited to commence a fundraising campaign along with the development of the university’s next strategic plan. Dr. Keck and her husband Jim were invited as guests to the Danish Brotherhood fundraising event for scholarships, Det Danske Kolde Bord, on November 5. This event provides a $1,000.00 scholarship to Grand View for a student of Danish heritage and last year nine $900 scholarships were awarded to students of our Danish Brotherhood members.
“Celebrating Our Present” credits former president, Kent Henning, and the university team under his leadership for working to create the current solid foundation of the university. Grand View University has approximately 1800 students from forty states, fifty countries and three Native American nations. Approximately 27 percent of the students are from diverse backgrounds. This year, there are three students from Denmark. Grand View currently has thirty-five undergraduate majors and six master’s degree programs. Approximate 80 percent of Grand View’s graduates stay in Iowa. Grand View has eleven opportunities for men’s sports, eleven for women’s sports and two coed sports.
President Rachelle Keck wants to pick up where her predecessor left off by seeing the university grow its academic offerings. "It's about the development of the whole person in terms of helping students find their calling . . . and then equipping them with the skills to go out and get it," Keck said. She has goals to expand Grand View University and emphasizes the importance of viewing decisions through the lens of a faith-based education.
“Igniting Our Future” was the theme of the service of inauguration on September 30, 2022. Her popularity and that of her husband Jim, “the first gentleman,” was evident by the many students attending and all the different clubs represented in the procession. Rev. Dr. Russell Lackey, campus pastor led the Invocation. The celebratory song was “Earth and All Stars.” A warm welcome and words of encouragement were shared by many, including representatives from the ELCA and the Southeastern Iowa Synod; the Honorable Kim Reynolds, Governor of Iowa; the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and Briar Cliff University. She was formally introduced to the attendees by her husband, Jim.
Her inaugural address was titled “Igniting Possibility” and is available on YouTube by searching for Dr. Rachell Keck inaugural address. In summary, today’s high school graduates may have seventeen different careers in five different industries throughout their professional lifetimes. College students may have eleven distinct jobs before the age of fifty, in jobs that do not yet exist. Students need to be prepared with the right skills to explore beyond what is, to explore what is possible. Grand View as a “school for life” is equipped to prepare students for intellectual fullness that requires both diligence and delight. Diligence is needed to develop an appetite for lifelong learning, self-discovery, and personal development. Delight requires curiosity, a joy for lifelong learning, and a growth mindset—a shift from learning merely in order to do to learning for agility and a fluency for human-to-human collaboration and human to technology interaction. Grand View will strive to create a grand adventure together for the GV community. Every day is a God given adventure.
On Sunday, October 2, Dr. Keck shared the pulpit with Pastor Russ Lackey. She shared her story of faith, referencing Bible passages that spoke to her as she was guided on the path to her dream job, that of becoming the president of a Lutheran University. She expressed that at every turn, God has demonstrated His extravagant love, from the people He has placed in her life, to the blessings He has rained down, to the words He gives to her, to the words He gives others, to the love surrounding her. May God bless her leadership in the years to come.
How is Grand View’s president leading the way to “Igniting the Future”? Two recent events are examples of Grand View’s leadership in the education community. On September 21, President Keck served on a panel with other Iowa leaders for the 2022 Future Ready Iowa Summit: All Options on the Table. The event brought together approximately 1,000 Iowa influencers to ask and answer the most challenging questions facing our edu-nomic future and sustainable agriculture. The panel was titled, Armchair Interview with Leading Iowa Futurists. It was an outstanding day for educators and business leaders in Iowa.
In honor of Grand View’s Global Vision week, the 2022 Albert Ravenholt Visiting Scholar Address was held at Sisam Arena, Johnson Wellness Center, on Monday, October 17. Major General Timothy E. Orr (retired), served as the keynote speaker. The Visiting Scholar program enables GV to bring speakers to campus who articulate the relevance of the philosophies of Danish philosopher and theologian N.S.F. Grundtvig to modern life and society. His talk was titled, “Forging and Maintaining Effective Security Cooperation Partnerships for the 21st Century.” General Orr is currently serving as the Advisor for Intergovernmental Affairs, National Guard Bureau with the United States Pentagon. Prior to retiring, General Orr served as Adjutant General and Director of the Iowa Department of Public Defense.
Lynette Rasmussen, Honorary Consul to Denmark, has facilitated an introduction between Dr. Keck and the new Danish ambassador, Christina Markus Lassen. Dr. Keck has plans to meet Ms. Lassen in the coming months in Washington D.C. Additionally, Dr. Keck plans to travel to Denmark next year. Both Dr. Keck and the university support maintaining the Danish heritage and connection.
Grand View University is poised to offer educational opportunities that lead to building an educated work force for Iowa and the rest of the world. Subscribers to Church and Life can proudly promote Grand View University in their local communities and congregations as a college of choice for those interested in a Christian-based university education founded with a Grundtvigian ideology.
Bridget Lois Jensen