LaPrade sets sail, leaving legacy of calm seas
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Kimberly LaPrade’s team handed her a large framed portrait of herself with a campus backdrop. She smiled and said her children would surely appreciate it … but she’s going on a small boat sailing around a big world.
As LaPrade wrapped up her last day before retirement Monday as Dean of Grand Canyon University‘s College of Education, it again was clear that she didn’t want to be the centerpiece of a room. Instead, she put her department in the focus.
“It’s been more than a job because of all of you,” she told the group.
LaPrade oversaw the phenomenal growth of the University’s foundational college during 10 years as President Brian Mueller’s first dean hire, establishing it as one of the nation’s largest educator preparation colleges and leading it to national accreditation.
“I didn’t do it, the collective ‘we’ did,” LaPrade said.
That’s not false humility if you talk with her husband and now full-time sailing partner, Larry LaPrade.
“I never heard her use the word ‘I.’ It’s we. It’s the team,” he said. “She endures herself that way.”
But it was clear as the college rapidly grew that LaPrade brought a lot of drive to COE, the same drive that once led her to become a professional ballerina.
“She is our guiding star, asking what is better for our children we are serving, always challenging us to think more, to do more,” said COE Associate Dean Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, who joined GCU in 2007 on the same day as LaPrade.
“She really exemplified what a true leader is. She got to know each and every one of us. She cares. She learned about our strengths and areas of opportunity and worked with us to shore up the areas where we were weak. She trusted each one of us to get the work done.”
Gilpatrick said LaPrade always encouraged her “to reach higher and higher. Her guidance and support and belief in me was exemplary, and I’m forever grateful to her.”
LaPrade didn’t grow up in suburban Chicago dreaming of being an educator. She dreamed of being a ballerina and did it, dancing in the Ohio and Cleveland ballets before an unexpected end to her career at age 20.
“When those dreams were dashed, I was adrift, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do,” LaPrade said.
After a stint as an airline flight attendant and working for a home design company, she decided to go to college because she loved writing and stories – after all, ballet tells a story. That’s when she found GCU in the late 1980s when it was a tiny, struggling Christian college.
She graduated in 1990 and became a high school English teacher, going on to get a master’s degree at GCU in 2000 before being asked by a professor out on medical leave to take over her class.
“It was an amazing semester with those young people. I was forever jazzed about being around people who saw their future in teaching,” LaPrade said. “But she told me if you want to teach in college you really need your doctorate.”
By 2007, LaPrade had earned one and that same year began at GCU as an assistant professor. One year later she was Associate Dean and then sat before Mueller in 2011 interviewing for the role of leading the college.
LaPrade said she told him three things.
First, she wanted to bring back the GCU Promise, so important to her as a student. It’s the COE promise of excellence and assistance to students in their careers after graduation.
To do that, she said, they had to accomplish her two other goals — grow the college and one day earn national accreditation. She was promoted and, by all accounts, never pounded her fist on a conference table to get things done.
“No matter the changes going on at GCU, she always embraced it and did it with such kindness in her heart. That is a legacy I hope to follow,” said Dr. Meredith Critchfield, who succeeds LaPrade as COE dean. “I like to call her a swan. She carriers herself with immense grace, but underneath she is working, like swans do. They work hard, they push, but never show it on the surface.”
LaPrade credits her years in ballet for staying calm and her faith in God for easing stress. She said she tried to advocate, support and “nudge” her team to keep the eye on the prize: “That at the heart of every child is a desire to have a great teacher. We want our students to be the best educators they can be.
“So there is a definite purpose. Not just find your purpose — we found our purpose.”
LaPrade delivered on her interview promises, growing the college to more than 24,000 traditional and online students, and in 2019 she made good on the final one: The college received national accreditation through the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) for its academic rigor, innovation and dedication to the community.
Linda McKee, AAQEP’s Chief Operations Officer, said LaPrade’s leadership stuck out, gracefully accepting the areas that needed improvement and implementing them.
“I always saw the comfort and the respect that her faculty and staff had for her in the ways she worked with them and trusted them to do the job,” McKee said.
University leaders saw it, too.
“Her warmth, kindness and smile always added to the room, others and modeled GCU,” said University Provost Dr. Hank Radda. “We appreciate all she has done for the University, the College of Education and the teachers she helped prepare to go into the world.”
Now LaPrade is going into the world, literally.
During the pandemic when most were working remotely, the LaPrades took account of how to spend their coming years. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘If not now, when?’”
The five-year plan to reach the point where they could take their sailboat all over the world was cut in half, and she decided to retire. Larry LaPrade, who teaches abnormal psychology as an adjunct professor at GCU, graded his final papers. They sold the house and car.
He said his wife is an incredible cook and her life revolved around family and GCU, where daughter Lauren LaPrade also works in the campus health clinic. Now, she’s putting the same effort into researching proper sailing. The journey starts in September, is scheduled to last for six years and can be followed on Instagram @knowfunsailing.
Knowfun? When the two were married 23 years ago, they brought together four children from prior marriages and also helped raise two nephews, so Kimberly LaPrade said there was a full house, full of “no’s” to children. One child took to calling her Auntie No, which she changed to Auntie Know. And Larry was always Uncle Fun, so that’s the moniker that will follow them across the world.
“There is something absolutely terrifying about it, but it’s also exhilarating,” she said.
“If I wasn’t so blessed to have the COE team and where they will take this, it would be much harder to leave. But I have such confidence and am so excited about what they are going to do. It’s like a parent watching their kids fly. They are flying.”
The LaPrades’ 46-foot sailboat will carry a GCU pennant and hold copies of her two children’s books – “Thunder’s Vision” and “Thunder’s Herd” to hand out at world ports in case children want to know about the value and fun in a GCU education.
“I will be a quasi-admissions counselor on the boat, spreading the word – Lopes Up! I couldn’t have done this without GCU. … GCU has been good to us. My, what a blessing.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.