Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp dies Wednesday, students and community respond

A wreath displayed in the middle of Marshall University’s campus pays tribute to President Stephen J. Kopp who died suddenly Wednesday.

Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp died Wednesday around 9 p.m. following a sudden illness, according to a university press release.

President since 2005, Kopp, 63, gave the university nearly a decade of dedication to student success and development. He played a part in securing funding for many of the recent additions to the Huntington campus including the Arthur Weisburg Family Applied Engineering Complex, the Visual Arts Center, a soccer stadium, the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, a new parking garage and other building renovations.

Kopp also helped develop Marshall’s academic profile, aiding in the creation of high-demand degree programs including digital forensics, schools of pharmacy, physical therapy and public health, the re-establishment and reaccreditation of the undergraduate engineering program, and an advanced initiative to recruit more international students, according to the university’s website.

Kopp consistently attended various Marshall-related events from athletics to ribbon cuttings to dedications, and members of the Huntington and Marshall communities noticed his presence, as the university’s softball team said as it expressed its condolences.

“President Kopp was visible at athletic events all over campus and we know that he loved the softball team,” a post on the team’s Facebook page said. “He knew the players, the staff, how the team was doing. And he could talk so highly about the university that he was leading into another stratosphere that it was hard for potential students to pass up the chance to be a part of the growth.”

As a face seen regularly across campus and in the community, Kopp’s impact on the community and on the student body was revealed as social media messages of condolence and stories of the president’s impact filled Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“Pres. Kopp was an amazing president, but more importantly, an even better man. He was an inspiration to me and I admired him so much. #RIP,” tweeted Student Body President Duncan Waugaman.

Waugaman and many other students, faculty and prominent West Virginia figures shared stories of Kopp’s abilities as a leader and as a son of Marshall.

“What a great man. I recall meeting him and his wife at their home for the first time in August,” said Rob Redding, communication studies graduate student. “He is the reason why I am a proud member of the Herd to this day. My prayers go out to his wife and family.”

His mission to encourage consistent growth from within the university was one he kept until his death. Chairman of the Board of Governors, Michael Sellards, said he and the rest of the board members were shocked as they met Thursday in an emergency meeting to discuss a timeline for naming an interim president.

“We were here in official session just yesterday [Wednesday] talking about the future of Marshall … the progress that’s been made under the leadership of Dr. Kopp,” Sellards said. “Literally 24 hours later we have the sad task of finding new leadership to take on that mission and that goal to serve the community and to serve the students.”

The board determined it would compile a list of potential interim candidates to be evaluated and chosen from within the next 30 to 60 days, during which a leadership team made up of senior members of the Marshall staff will direct day-to-day operations.

As the board makes its future decisions, Kopp’s mission will not be forgotten.

“Dr. Kopp was a visionary in higher education, and his loss will be reflected in this institution for a long time as will his accomplishments,” Sellards said. “All you have to do is look around campus as the legacy this man has left, and it will be a legacy that will affect generations in this community.”

Codi Mohr can be contacted at [email protected].