By GCU News Bureau
No one knows more about the history of Grand Canyon University than Faith Weese, whose family’s ties to GCU stretch back to when her father was among the “group of pastors who had a heart” and started what would become the University in 1949.
Then there’s Rich Oesterle.
Few people know as much as the campus facilities director when it comes to the future of GCU. Before construction crews would even arrive on campus, he had the scoop on what they were going to build next.
Weese and Oesterle — two of the most beloved people on campus, with their hands placed firmly on the pulse of the past and future of GCU — are retiring from the University and were honored with a ceremony Wednesday at the Student Union GCBC. The event was attended by countless employees and members of the community they worked with through the years. Although their roles will change with GCU, it’s clear they are not leaving the University altogether. With more than 30 years of service for Weese, and more than a decade for Oesterle, the longtime employees also are leaving behind indelible marks.
“The best proof that God is smiling down on this University is that He brought us people like Faith and Rich,” said Bob Romantic, Executive Director of Communications. “They’re a huge part of the heart of this campus.”
Weese said Wednesday’s retirement ceremony felt like a reunion of good friends and family.
“Oh my goodness – the retirement event just took my breath away. It was just beautiful and memorable for everyone who attended. … I was just over the moon. However, the day was not about me. The day was about Grand Canyon University and the dedicated people who made it so.”
Weese’s father, as one of the pastors who started what would become GCU, also launched the Canyon tradition in her family.
“I feel like I’ve always been part of the Canyon family from the day I was born (in the choir loft), as my pastor dad would say,” she said. “I was destined to attend and serve at … formerly Grand Canyon College — now Grand Canyon University. And the rest is history.”
Being such a well-loved member of the GCU community, sometimes even being referred to as its unofficial historian, those who have shared her Grand Canyon journey dedicated the morning to celebrating her accomplishments. Several fellow employees shared their memories and kind words in a slideshow — and they had a lot to say.
“Faith is all things GCU,” College of Education Dean Dr. Kimberely LaPrade said. “Community driven, Christ follower, relationship builder … and who else can rock that purple graduation robe better than Faith? She is admired, loved and will be heartfully missed.”
After graduating from GCU — she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees here — she would go on to work in Alumni Relations, Student Advising, Academic Records, Public Relations and eventually was named the Chief University Relations Officer, just to name a few of her positions. She led a half dozen GCU departments over her three decades and taught classes, too.
Board of Trustees member Don Andorfer‘s experience with Weese dates back to 2004, when he was tasked to help the University survive its “tough” years. He said Weese helped bridge the gap between the earlier days of Grand Canyon College with what is now a growing university, and she was always there to make sure things ran smoothly behind the scenes.
“GCU has always been a ‘Faith-based institution,’” Andorfer said. “People who know Faith Weese well would say you could take this a couple of different ways.”
“I never left a conversation with Faith not having learned something new,” Communications Outreach Manager Debbie Accomazzo said. “The signature flower she wears on her lapel will always mean generosity and grace to me.”
Many other colleagues took the time also to share their memories with Weese as well, which reminded her of one of the things she said she’s loved and will miss the most: The people.
As for post-retirement, she has no set-in-stone plans at the moment but is excited about the next step in her journey. She may not know exactly what that step may be, but she does know one thing for sure: She plans to remain involved in the GCU community.
“They are my family over all these years, just as the Canyon family is and … forever will be. I found my purpose here,” she said. “Canyon is my ‘happy place’ … I will always be around helping and supporting in any way I can.”
Oesterle’s retirement likely means fewer smiles on campus.
The Director of Campus Development & Facilities is respected by many for his sense of calm in overseeing a growing campus’ facilities but loved for his sense of humor.
One of his favorite lines: “You may choose any color that you like as long as it is PURPLE and not YELLOW.”
“I don’t use humor for any reason, other than I enjoyed the work I did and the people I worked with,” Oesterle said.
He often warmly greeted his employees, whether they were office workers or janitors, said Elizabeth Guerrero, Administrative Assistant to Oesterle.
“He needs to be out there, in the neighborhood of the campus,” she said. “He is always saying hello and acknowledging people and knowing little things those people have done.
“He sees the best in people and is such a caring person.”
Make no mistake. He was a motivating manager, too. During the slideshow at Wednesday’s retirement party, Scott Doering, Accounting Manager, shared a catch phrase that defined it. He said it came from a day they were talking baseball and wondering why players don’t bunt more these days.
“You don’t get paid the big bucks to bunt,” Oesterle told him.
“So began the use of a phrase,” Doering wrote.
After serving in municipal government with the city of Tempe for 19 years, Oesterle came to GCU in 2005 to be an assistant coach of the women’s soccer team while earning his master’s degree in secondary education here and working part-time in the Facilities Department. He was the head coach in 2007 for one season.
When he resigned, he told his players: “The best part of my day was always on the field with you.”
Oesterle said he wanted to devote time to his role as manager in Facilities. He later moved to Campus Development. He oversaw a growth in the Development and Facilities divisions from 30 employees in 2005 to more than 200 today.
“I will always look back and be a little bit amazed at the speed of the growth,” he said. “Any of my accomplishments were with the assist of a large number of people that were always there to help with the growth of the University.”
Oesterle, 69, said he already has planned some international travel with his wife, along with trips to California to visit four daughters and nine grandchildren. He also plans to do some adjunct teaching at GCU.
“I wanted to go quietly into the night, but I do appreciate all the kind words that people said,” he said. “It’s a difficult decision to decide to retire. It is a massive change. The people here have been so great.”
GCU senior writer Mike Kilen and staff writer Ashlee Larrison contributed to this story.
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