John J. Koldus III Remembered For Commitment To Texas A&M Students
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John J. Koldus III — the first and longest-serving vice president for Student Affairs at Texas A&M University, as well as the namesake for the Student Services Building —passed away Monday. He was 89.
“John J. Koldus III led the Division of Student Affairs as its first vice president with a sense of devotion underpinned by this institution’s core values at a pivotal moment in its history,” Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young said. “His vision for a university that served students of every background across the state of Texas, the nation and the world left an indelible mark on this campus and will continue to guide the university he loved dearly for decades to come. Aggies of the past, present and future thank him.”
Texas A&M Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel J. Pugh thanked Koldus for building a foundation for today’s division of student affairs and reflected upon his life of service.
“A pillar of the profession and an Aggie of the highest magnitude, Dr. Koldus exemplified our core values and drew out the best in each of us,” Pugh said of Koldus, who served in the position from 1973 to 1993. “In building our nation’s preeminent Division of Student Affairs, he maintained his commitment to the Aggie leadership philosophy of ‘student-led, student-run’ programs. Perhaps his greatest legacy to Texas A&M is that of the ‘residential VPSA’ and the institutional commitment of a student-engaged VPSA. Mrs. Pugh and I were blessed through our interactions with Dr. and Mrs. Koldus and we will cherish our memories of him.”
Born in Gary, Indiana, in 1930, Koldus grew up in a close-knit family that daily gathered around the dinner table. It made such an impression that Koldus hosted Aggies at weekly meals throughout his tenure at Texas A&M.
A gifted athlete, he received an athletic scholarship to Arkansas State University and was named to the Associated Press Little All-America Football Team in 1951. He also was a Golden Gloves middleweight champion from 1952-53.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1953 from Arkansas State University and later joined the U.S. Army as an officer. Following his military career, he taught and coached at Texas and Arkansas high schools while completing his master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Arkansas. He also served as an instructor at the university.
Koldus joined the faculty at East Texas State in 1963. During his 10 years at the Commerce campus, he held numerous positions, including assistant and associate professor of health, physical education and recreation, professor of psychology, dean of students and vice president of student affairs.
In 1973, Texas A&M’s Dean of Students James P. Hannigan, a former U.S. Army brigadier general, retired. In the wake of this announcement, university leaders reorganized the role and hired Koldus to fill the newly created position of vice president for student services.
Because of the changing make-up of the student body in the years following the integration of the university and the Corps of Cadets, then-Texas A&M President Jack K. Williams challenged Koldus to develop increased leadership opportunities for civilian students in what became known as Texas A&M’s “other education.”
Guiding Texas A&M through a period of transition
Koldus kept a saying on his desk that read: “Give life your best shot – but enjoy it!” It served as an important touchstone during his two-decade tenure as Texas A&M University’s vice president for student affairs. His professional “best shot” was instrumental in creating the unique culture that continues to provide today’s students with extensive leadership opportunities.
Students learned to appreciate the nuances of Koldus’ approach. In a 1986 award nomination letter, Texas A&M Student Body President Brad Smith described how the vice president would encourage student leaders to follow through on ideas they were excited about.
“It wasn’t until months later that we understood the idea had been attempted by many Student Governments prior to us and they had run across the same dead ends that we had faced,” said Smith, who served as the student body president from 1980-81. “We then realized his grin was a result of knowing all along where we’d end up. However, you don’t successfully convince an idealistic 20-year-old that something can’t be done just because someone else failed at it before, and we learned more in the process of failure than we’d ever have learned from an explanation of why it wouldn’t work.”
Some Texas A&M students credited Koldus for guiding Texas A&M through the turmoil many universities experienced during the Vietnam War and Watergate eras, along with multiple social movements. They said Koldus had a student-centered focus and commitment to building relationships that created an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
“The tension between students and administration that is found on many university campuses is non-existent at Texas A&M,” Smith wrote. “The Memorial Student Center is undisputedly the best and largest of its type, engaging in ambitious programs that most other university students would never think of attempting.”
A celebrated university leader
Koldus’ reach extended far across Texas A&M’s campus. His administrative role gave him oversight of a number of organizations, services and activities, including the Corps of Cadets, Recreational Sports, the Memorial Student Center, Personal Counseling Services, Security and Traffic, Student Activities, Student Affairs, Student Health Services and Student Legal Services.
During his tenure at Texas A&M, the number of student organizations nearly doubled, expanding to more than 700. In addition to his administrative duties, Koldus taught classes and served on numerous academic committees for students earning masters and doctoral degrees.
Despite regularly working 12-hour days, Koldus handled his responsibilities and challenges with grace.
“In my position you have to be able to adjust, without pressure, to a daily change in priorities,” Koldus told the Battalion in 1988. “You cannot allow problems to pile on, but you must deal with each problem individually and then move on to the next one. By doing this, you’re not overwhelmed.”
His work was of such high quality and had such an impact that he received recognition — 28 awards in total from various professional and university groups — during 15 of his 20 years at Texas A&M. His string of honors began the year after he arrived in Aggieland when he was presented with the Outstanding Administrator Award by Texas A&M’s Student Senate.
During his career, Koldus was the recipient of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Region III Outstanding Service to NASPA Award in 1984, which was named in his honor in 1985.
He also received NASPA’s Fred Turner Award for Outstanding Service to NASPA in 1986, the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators’ Distinguished Service Award 1989, and NASPA’s Scott Goodnight Award for Outstanding Performance as a Dean in 1991.
He also received many noteworthy Texas A&M awards, including The Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Achievement Award for Student Relations in 1986, which was the first year that he was eligible. Koldus also was the first non-student to receive the Buck Weirus Spirit Award 1987.
A lasting impact
Coinciding with his retirement in 1993, Koldus was the surprise recipient of the President’s Medallion of Achievement and was named Vice President for Student Services Emeritus.
Thanks to recommendations from numerous groups, the Student Services Building was renamed the John J. Koldus Building.
The Texas A&M Foundation also created the John J. Koldus Quality of Student Life Endowment, an unrestricted endowment that gives the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs the flexibility to assist students, their families, student organizations and various departments within the division to address needs related to the quality of Texas A&M’s student life.
Even in retirement, Koldus and his wife, Mary Dell, were a visible presence at various Texas A&M events. Their continued influence resulted in the creation of a proclamation in 2006 that bestowed the couple, neither of whom attended Texas A&M as students, with the title of “Texas Aggies.”
The Koldus family welcomes donations to the John J. Koldus Quality of Student Life Endowment at give.am/SupportKoldusEndowment
Funeral services arranged by Hillier Funeral Home in College Station are set for Friday, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. at Christ United Methodist Church in College Station. The Singing Cadets, Corps of Cadets Buglers and Ross Volunteers will participate in the service. Visitation at Hillier Funeral Home is set for Thursday, Aug. 15 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. All services are open to the public.
NOTE FOR MEDIA: Funeral service and visitation dates have been corrected from an earlier version of this article. A John J. Koldus Quality of Student Life Endowment donation link has been added.
Media contact: Sondra K. White, Texas A&M University Division of Student Affairs, 979-458-3296, firstname.lastname@example.org.