The Parthenon

Column: The legacy of Stephen Kopp

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Marshall+University+President+Stephen+J.+Kopp+explores+the+university%E2%80%99s+new+Visual+Arts+Center+as+it+opens+its+doors+in+downtown+Huntington+June+25.+The+%2413+million+renovation+will+house+eight+programs+from+the+School+of+Art+and+Design+and+stands+adjacent+to+Huntington%E2%80%99s+Pullman+Square.+
Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp explores the university’s new Visual Arts Center as it opens its doors in downtown Huntington June 25. The $13 million renovation will house eight programs from the School of Art and Design and stands adjacent to Huntington’s Pullman Square.

Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp explores the university’s new Visual Arts Center as it opens its doors in downtown Huntington June 25. The $13 million renovation will house eight programs from the School of Art and Design and stands adjacent to Huntington’s Pullman Square.

Lexi Browning

Lexi Browning

Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp explores the university’s new Visual Arts Center as it opens its doors in downtown Huntington June 25. The $13 million renovation will house eight programs from the School of Art and Design and stands adjacent to Huntington’s Pullman Square.

'I and many others tried to mirror the president’s dedication to and embodiment of the Marshall Family. Today his legacy is alive and well, not just in the structures and advancements that he championed, but in those individuals with whom he worked and those whose futures he helped shape."

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The year was 2011, and I was fresh into my first term as Student Body President at Marshall University. Because I was involved in student government since my freshman year, I was no stranger to the whispers of the rumor mill. One rumor that had been growing in discussion for several weeks was whether Dr. Kopp was seeking the presidency at another university. The seriousness of this concern led the questions to be limited mostly to private discussions, but its pressing nature caused the issue to become more prevalent.

At the height of these rumors, I was invited to a dinner at Foundation Hall attended mostly by donors and other university stakeholders. After a few people spoke, Dr. Kopp took the podium with an unusual air of seriousness. After some pleasantries and words of gratitude, I watched the president’s demeanor shift to a matter-of-factness that one would expect from someone who had just said, “Now let’s get down to brass tacks here.”

I watched as Dr. Kopp began addressing these rumors head on. As tears welled in his eyes, the president detailed how the rumors were just that, how he and his wife, Jane, had made West Virginia their home, and how Marshall University was the only university on his horizon. The genuineness and honesty exuded by Dr. Kopp in that moment were indisputable. Though his exact words escape me, Dr. Kopp’s message was clear: he was here to stay, and he would not rest until his vision for Marshall University was achieved.

The president’s speech had a profound effect on me as a young, aspiring leader. This was the type of president I wanted to be – one with an unwavering dedication to his cause, one who embedded himself and his family in his efforts and one who remained true to his constituents.

Since his tragic and sudden passing, many articles and news stories have detailed the tangible growth and advancements that Dr. Kopp brought to the university. While the significance of these accomplishments should certainly be underscored, Dr. Kopp’s legacy will reach far beyond the buildings and programs he established. Just as importantly, he believed in the notion of the student-centered Marshall Family, and strived to join students, alumni, faculty, staff, athletics and the surrounding community in a collegial unit. But Dr. Kopp did more than believe in this notion, he lived it.

Dr. Kopp did not limit the external input of his presidency to fellow academics, politicians or attorneys – he listened to the concerns and suggestions from all members of the Marshall Family and crafted his policies and actions accordingly. This was evidenced in his efforts to join us all together in times of loss or tribulation. It was evidenced in his “open door” policy with all students and, in the fact that he established many substantial institutional changes by working with student teams such as ours. It was evidenced in Dr. Kopp’s attendance at student government meetings, and his willingness to meet with the Student Body President on at least a monthly basis. It was even evidenced in his love for annually playing John Marshall’s favorite game (quoits), and in the fact that you will be hard-pressed to find a picture of him not wearing green.

I write this to illustrate the affect that Dr. Stephen Kopp had on countless people such as me. Throughout my tenure at Marshall, I and many others tried to mirror the president’s dedication to and embodiment of the Marshall Family. Today his legacy is alive and well, not just in the structures and advancements that he championed, but in those individuals with whom he worked and those whose futures he helped shape. I will be forever grateful for the privilege of learning from Dr. Kopp as my mentor, and for being able to call him my friend. Thank you, son of Marshall.

 

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