Humanities & Cultural
Dr. Eugene Habecker
As you behold the campus of Huntington University, you are also admiring the vision of a young educator who made the challenge of a lifetime a success story that launched a remarkable career.
Eugene B. Habecker was born in the house he grew up in – one of six siblings on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, near Hershey, Pa. As a student with “big dreams” of a life beyond bucolic Pennsylvania, he yearned for an education at a Christian college. He found that at Taylor University, where he also met a fellow student, Marylou Napolitano, who would become his wife. After picking up a master’s degree at Ball State he began law school at Indiana University but soon felt a calling to academic administration. He took a position with Eastern Baptist College (now Eastern University) in suburban Philadelphia, and earned a law degree at nearby Temple University. He then headed to George Fox University, in Oregon, as its dean of students.
As E. DeWitt Baker was preparing to retire as president of Huntington College, the school’s trustees launched a search for an executive vice president who would be Baker’s understudy. Habecker had left George Fox to complete a master’s in higher education systems at the University of Michigan, and was in Ann Arbor when officials at Huntington contacted him. He recognized the opportunity and moved to Huntington in the summer of 1978.
His first year at Huntington was spent assembling the college’s long-range development plan, which has served as the blueprint for the ongoing physical transformation of the campus. He admits “there were moments I had my doubts” that his ideas would become reality, but he found key individuals who believed in his latest “big dreams.” Among those believers were Michigan businessman Orville Merillat and his wife Ruth, whose family’s philanthropy proved to be instrumental in funding some of the plan’s most prominent improvements.
In his second year at Huntington, Habecker was promoted to chief operating officer and president-designate. Upon Baker’s retirement in 1981 Habecker became, at age 35, one of the youngest college presidents in America.
For the next decade Habecker worked to carry out the plan he had designed. It included, in addition to the brick-and-mortar improvements, faculty recruitment and enrollment goals and strengthening ties to the Huntington community. During this time, he devoted considerable study to leadership development principles. While at Huntington he wrote two of his five books on leadership issues.
Habecker left Huntington in 1991 to head the American Bible Society – among the world’s foremost publishers, translators and distributors of the Bible and related study materials. He led that New York City-based organization for 14 years before returning to his undergraduate alma mater, Taylor, as its president in 2005. He retired from Taylor 11 years later and was named the university’s president emeritus. He and Marylou now enjoy traveling and keeping up with their three children and seven grandchildren. Habecker continues to consult and lecture on Christian leadership principles and practices, helping educate and inspire what he calls “a new generation of global Kingdom leaders.”