Former St. Olaf President Melvin George dies

Former St. Olaf President Mel George poses in front of Holland Hall on the St. Olaf campus.
During his tenure as president of St. Olaf, Melvin George led the college’s highly successful VISION campaign, which raised nearly $73 million for the endowment and several major construction projects, including doubling the size of the library and adding a new athletic field house.

Former St. Olaf College President Melvin D. George died April 25 at the age of 80.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 3, at Holden Lutheran Church in rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Visitation will be Monday, May 2, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Benson & Langehough Funeral Home in Northfield, Minnesota, and one hour prior to the service in the church.

George assumed the presidency at St. Olaf in March 1985, becoming only the eighth president in the college’s history and the first who was not a member of the clergy.

During his tenure, George led the college’s highly successful VISION campaign, which raised nearly $73 million for the endowment and several major construction projects, including doubling the size of the library and adding a new athletic field house.

During George’s presidency, the college also implemented a new curricular structure and significantly increased the diversity of the student body.

A native of Washington, D.C., George was a graduate of Northwestern University and earned a doctorate in mathematics from Princeton University. He held a joint appointment in mathematics at St. Olaf.

George came to St. Olaf from the University of Missouri, where he was vice president for academic affairs for 10 years. During his final year there, he served as interim president. He also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska for five years and as a faculty member in mathematics at the University of Missouri for 10 years.

While serving as St. Olaf’s president, George was active in state, regional, and national education organizations. He wrote a number of articles on mathematics, mathematical economics, and higher education, and served as a consultant-evaluator for the North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. He was knighted by King Harald V of Norway, receiving the Knight’s Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit in honor of his efforts to strengthen and maintain the close relationship between the United States and Norway.

Former President Mel George talks with St. Olaf alumni during last summer's Class of 1990 25th reunion.
Melvin George’s final visit to the Hill was last summer during the Class of 1990’s 25th reunion.

In 1989 the Minnesota Legislature asked George to head the Regent Candidate Advisory Council to review and recommend candidates for the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. He became the only private college president chairing a group that helped select the governing board for a state’s major public university.

Shortly after retiring from St. Olaf in 1994, George was asked to serve as the University of Minnesota’s vice president for institutional relations — a role he took on full-time after first leading a National Science Foundation study of the status of undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education in the United States. He held his post at the University of Minnesota for two years before returning to Missouri in 1996 to serve a second time as interim president of the University of Missouri.

George led several St. Olaf Study Travel programs in his retirement, including a Santa Fe Opera program in 1999 and an exploration of King Arthur’s England in 2002.

He resided in Columbia, Missouri, and is survived by his wife, Meta, and two daughters.