John deSteiguer Next President Calls OC Home

By Murray Evans (89) and Kelsey Frobisher This feature is a combination of two articles: Murray’s feature originally appeared in the Oklahoman; Kelsey’s feature originally appeared in the Talon

In 2001, the last time Oklahoma Christian conducted a search for a new president, a young administrator from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah was nominated. 

John deSteiguer, currently OC’s senior vice president for advancement, didn’t get the job then. But he made an indelible impression on members of the search committee. 

“We had never seen him before and didn’t know how to pronounce his name, but we were so impressed,” said Kent Allen (79), who will succeed deSteiguer as OC’s vice president for advancement (Allen was a local minister serving on the search committee at the time). “We said, ‘That guy needs to be working at OC in some leadership capacity … and one of these years, that guy is going to make someone a great, great president.’”

That prediction proved prophetic, as deSteiguer soon joined the OC administration and – 11 years later – will become OC’s president. 

The university’s 33-member board of trustees selected the 50-year-old deSteiguer to replace Mike O’Neal, who will retire from the presidency at the end of April.

After the board of trustees hired O’Neal as OC’s president, he began looking for a chief development officer. He thought of deSteiguer, whose time as a Pepperdine University law student overlapped with O’Neal’s time as an administrator there.

“John was just a natural, and it made a great deal of sense to bring him to OC,” O’Neal said. “He has a natural talent for raising money and he is a great Christian man. John genuinely loves people. He’s thoughtful of other people. When you’re in John’s presence, you always feel like you’re somebody special.”

Given the opportunity to combine his passions of faith and higher education, deSteiguer left his alma mater and his hometown for the unknown, with his wife Darla’s blessing.

“We always thought that, sometime toward the end of my career, we would go to Christian higher education,” deSteiguer said. “Our faith is very important to us and we thought we would be able to serve in some way. When the opportunity arose for us to serve earlier, we prayed a lot about it and we talked a lot about it, and we were convinced that God was creating opportunities to move us in this direction.”

He said Oklahoma Christian has become his home, and he wants everyone connected with the university to feel the same way.

“This place has really become home to us in the time we’ve been here,” he said. “We were outsiders in every sense of the word, but we were taken in by a number of folks. We have been blessed by the people that we’ve come to know here.”

The son of a naval aviator, deSteiguer moved a lot as a child, living in California, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia, as well as on the island of Guam. 

His family eventually settled in his mother’s hometown of Tahlequah, where he caught the attention of Don Betz, a professor at Northeastern State who directed NSU’s President’s Leadership Class. Betz worked hard to recruit the Tahlequah High School product to NSU in 1980.

“John, from the time he was a young man, evoked trust from other people,” said Betz, now the president at the University of Central Oklahoma. “He exhibits servant leadership. He’s the kind of leader who understands it’s not about him, but about the service he provides. That’s what I saw in John when he was 18.”

In 1982, deSteiguer, a political science major, became NSU’s first Truman Scholar. He was active in the Model United Nations program, which took him and his fellow NSU students all over the United States. 

He also became the student government president and speaker of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature’s House of Representatives before graduating in 1984.

deSteiguer was a Rotary International Scholarship recipient and spent the 1984-85 school year attending the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, before moving back to Tahlequah and serving as the youth minister at South College Church of Christ in Tahlequah. 

He married his college sweetheart, Darla, in June 1986, not long after she returned from a year of overseas study in New Zealand as a Rotary International Scholar.

That August, the couple enrolled in law school at Pepperdine. They graduated with their juris doctorate degrees in 1989. 

Soon after, they moved to Dallas to start their legal careers – John with a labor and employment law firm and Darla as the clerk for a federal judge.

By 1993, as they started their family, the deSteiguers decided they wanted to raise their children outside of “the high life of big-city law practice,” he said. 

In August 1993, NSU hired John as a senior development officer. He came to OC in January 2003.

As president, deSteiguer said he will seek to employ the connections he has made to help OC students establish themselves in the local community. He also wants Oklahoma Christian to continue to develop its atmosphere of a second home for students.

“Home is a place where you learn, grow and connect, and home prepares you to leave and go out into the world and make a living … make a life,” deSteiguer said. “My vision for the institution is really not that complicated: OC as home, OC grows and OC as mission.” 

Oklahoma Christian currently has approximately 2,200 students. deSteiguer’s five-year plan includes growing to 3,000 students, including undergraduate, graduate and online students. deSteiguer also envisions continued financial growth for the school.

“When President O’Neal began, our budget model really did not work,” deSteiguer said. “He had to make some very difficult decisions and that’s a great legacy of his.”

deSteiguer plans to continue this legacy by raising endowment money and paying down the university’s long-term debt.

“In 10 years, if this measure is correct, the university will have revenue it will spend on programs, people and things … and that will be significant,” deSteiguer said.

Mission – deSteiguer’s third goal – extends beyond the typical conception.

“We provide a great education, and our faculty are second to none in what they know, how they teach and how they care about the students,” deSteiguer said. “But if all we provide is a good education, we’re missing the boat. So OC as mission is the idea that we are here to transform lives for Christian faith, scholarship and service. If we seek wisdom from God, His providence is going to continue to blaze the way for this institution.”

Spring 2012

View more stories from the Spring 2012 issue of Vision magazine.