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2016 Men of the Year Honoree: Jerry Davis

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It’s one thing to settle on a lasting name for your organization. It’s quite another when The Wall Street Journal picks it for you.

That’s the story of “Hard Work U” – the moniker given to College of the Ozarks based on its work-tuition model.

As president the last 28 years, Jerry Davis is part of the fabric of that working culture.

“Each graduating class represents students, not unlike myself as a young man, who have overcome poverty, worked hard and are prepared to enter the workforce as productive young men and women,” Davis says. “Such feats have garnered much national publicity through prominent rankings and national media attention.”

Davis speaks from experience. He had a tumultuous childhood and at 5 years old was taken in by his grandparents as legal guardians. At age 16, Davis was sent to a boarding school, the Mount Berry School for Boys, and he says that’s where faith, hope and hard work began to shape his life.

He’s gone from getting kicked out of multiple schools to being a fixture in academia. With four degrees to Davis’ name, the latest being a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1970, his university career started at the University of the Cumberlands. Later at the age of 33, he was named president of Alice Lloyd College, a self-help junior college in Kentucky.

When he arrived at Point Lookout in the 1980s, the C of O campus overlooking Table Rock Lake wasn’t known for its fiscal strength.

“Difficult decisions had to be made to ensure financial stability and the continuation of the college’s mission,” Davis recalls. “Our institution was experiencing mission drift, and I saw it as my job to get the college back on course.”

Part of the result is evident in the school’s endowment, now built up to $400 million. C of O averages 300 graduates a year, and each goes through the school’s fivefold mission of encouraging academic, Christian, cultural, vocational and patriotic values.

Also part of his legacy, Davis points to the campus entrance, where the newly established Missouri Vietnam Veterans Memorial welcomes visitors. The memorial lists the names of 1,410 servicemen and servicewomen who died during the Vietnam War. It was designed by a student and built by staff and students.

“This memorial is a somber reminder of the sacrifice of patriots who have gone before us,” Davis says.

He’s also established the Patriotic Education Travel Program that sends students and veterans to battle sites around the world, including Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima and Normandy, France.

When it comes to his impact on campus programs and structures, Davis points to The Keeter Center, where students run a restaurant and lodge; the Armstrong McDonald School of Nursing; its K-12 laboratory school; and the upcoming school of engineering.

Davis has helped create convocations open to the public that bring in such national speakers as President George W. Bush, Great Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy.

For all the acclaim, Davis says it comes down to people.

“I fully believe you win with people – not with buildings,” he says. “I have placed very capable people in administration, staff and faculty at C of O, and it is because of their hard work and discipline that the college is a success.”

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