Initially, Dr. Stephen Pusey thought he was called to ministry, but a college history class changed everything.
“I felt a call early on my life and struggled with it because I was never comfortable that I was called to a preaching ministry, pastoral ministry or even mission work,” Pusey said. “I went off to college and within weeks of sitting in a class of a longtime history professor at Olivet, I realized that God calls us to a lot more than preaching ministry and realized the impact that a college professor can have on young people. Before that semester was up, I knew that I was going to have a career in Christian higher education.”
Pusey, who has served Trevecca Nazarene University for 27 years, announced his retirement to the campus community and Trevecca Board of Trustees last week. He had served as the university’s provost since 2006, after beginning his Trevecca career as vice president for academic affairs in 1992.
Pusey’s last day is set for June 30. He will be honored with Trevecca’s Lyla Mackey Diakonos Award at Trevecca’s Commencement Convocation on May 4.
Dr. Dan Boone, Trevecca’s president, citing Pusey’s dedication to Christian higher education and deep love for Trevecca, said Pusey will be missed.
“If there were a Hall of Fame in Nazarene higher education, Dr. Steve Pusey would be front and center,” Boone said. “Across a lifetime of service to the cause of Christ, Steve has made an indelible impression on the generations. I will miss his wisdom and grace, and even more his humble presence on the campus each day.”
Reflecting on a Trevecca career that has spanned more years than most traditional undergraduate seniors have lived, Pusey said one of the highlights of his career has been watching the University grow and change.
“Trevecca has grown from a narrowly focused, small institution to a much more broadly expansive institution,” he said. “But we’ve done all of that while maintaining our mission. I don’t think we’ve sacrificed who we are as an institution.”
Part of maintaining that mission, Pusey says, has been building a faculty with high academic and professional quality that is committed to Trevecca’s mission and “diversifying the kinds of programs” Trevecca offers, including graduate and doctoral degrees as well as non-traditional and online options.
“We’ve always been willing to be on the cutting edge of new types of programming and delivery systems, so it’s helped us to grow,” Pusey said. “When we moved and established the Ed.D. program, it put us in a whole new level of academic programming.”
It’s a transition Pusey played a role in shaping. As Trevecca’s highest academic officer, he was at the helm when Trevecca achieved university status in 1995. Over the years, he has guided the faculty and staff through the addition of three doctoral programs and a number of graduate degrees, both online and face-to-face.
And Pusey has done it all with quiet, patient humility, Boone says.
“Steve’s quiet, steady, humble, and insightful leadership has shaped Trevecca,” Boone said. “His careful selection of faculty and employees has created a family of friends who have worked together in service to our students. Steve is the glue that binds us together in love.”
Prior to his work at Trevecca, Pusey spent more than a decade at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., serving as a professor of history as well as a program coordinator and director, department chair and dean of the School of Graduate and Adult Studies.
Pusey doesn’t expect his retirement to slow him down. He plans to volunteer with The Salvation Army and other organizations around the city as well as at Trevecca. He and his wife, Gail, also want to continue to take part in the life of the Trevecca community, attending campus plays and athletic events. A trained historian, Pusey also wants to spend some time serving in Trevecca’s Ray and C.R. Thrasher Archives.
More than that, the couple hopes to spend more time with their seven grandchildren, four of whom live in the Middle Tennessee area.
“I’m going to go to a lot of high school football games this fall,” Pusey said. “I want to spend time with my grandkids and family.”
For Pusey, his work has been important because of the impact he knows the faculty, administrators and staff at a Christian university can have on a student’s life. His parting advice for Trevecca’s students is simple and poignant.
“Find your strengths and know it’s OK to be yourself,” he said. “Develop those strengths and manage your weaknesses. You are created as a unique person, so accept who you are and work as hard as you can.”
Or as the simple framed reminder in Pusey’s office—cross-stitched by his wife from something Pusey’s own grandmother often told him—Put God first, play fair and do your best.