Over Whitworth’s 125-year history, Mark Koehler, ’37, continues to hold the distinction of being its only alumnus to serve as president.
As a student in the 1930s, Koehler was a founding member of the men’s quartet, which became a Whitworth institution. The group travelled around the region, developing an excellent reputation and serving as outstanding ambassadors for Whitworth. He was also a member of student government and the basketball team, and he received the first Pirette Inspirational Award, in 1935.
After earning his master of theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminaries, Koehler returned to Whitworth in 1943 to head the Bible and Christian-education program. He had already received honorary doctorates from the University of Dubuque and Hastings College and had pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Port Townsend, Wash. Students often affectionately referred to his classes as “The Gospel According to Mark.” (His brother, John, for whom Whitworth’s original art gallery was named, joined the art faculty in 1945.)
Koehler was named president by the board of trustees after Frank Warren’s death, in 1963; he had served as executive vice president during Warren’s battle with cancer. Two days after taking the presidential role, in May 1964, he presided at his first commencement, conferring 255 degrees, including one upon his daughter, Michal.
Koehler took office with high hopes and great expectations, but his tenure as president proved difficult, as it did for most college presidents in the country, who felt pressured to move with the times amid the changing national climate. He worked to raise salaries, improve the library budget and increase the endowment.
By the time he retired, in 1969, Koehler’s administration had overseen significant developments to Whitworth’s operations and academics, including the introduction of the 4-1-4 calendar, the Core curriculum, an increased number of faculty, and the initial computerization of business records.
Koehler and his wife, Clara Belle, remained proud Whitworthians until their passing, in 2003 and 1996, respectively.