MADISONVILLE, Tenn. -- The Rev. Jerry Russell will serve as interim president for Hiwassee College effective immediately, the Board of Trustees announced April 12 to students and staff in Rymer Student Center.
Russell, 61, is senior pastor at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville District. He succeeds the Rev. James Noseworthy, who led the United Methodist-affiliated college for seven years before resigning in mid-February.
“He is a proven leader who loves Jesus Christ, who loves whatever he’s engaged in, and we know for a fact he loves Hiwassee College,” said the Rev. Doug Fairbanks, Knoxville District superintendent and a member of the Hiwassee board.
Russell commended Hiwassee staff for their dedication during “these stressful and very trying times,” since the rural college lost its accreditation in 2007 and subsequently became ineligible for state and federal financial aid. Hiwassee regained accreditation in November 2009 and expects to regain financial aid eligibility within four to six weeks, Russell said. Yet the college must increase fundraising and student enrollment to continue its 161-year history.
“I’m not a miracle worker, but I do know how to work,” he said. ”I want to be where God is at work. He’s at work where the storms are, and he has his hand on this place.”
Russell has served as lead pastor at Fairview UMC for 22 years. On April 4, the church hosted 2,334 worshipers for Easter Sunday services. The pastor said he will continue to preach on Sundays at his Maryville church, while clergy and lay staff will oversee administrative responsibilities.
A search team for a permanent president will be assembled by late June, Fairbanks said.
In the meantime, Russell said he will seek financial gifts and prayers for the college while also asking supporters to encourage prospective students and parents.
“We want to quell any fears that they might have about coming to this school,” Russell said. “Everything is totally in line for the students and parents to be confident that this institution is moving into the future.”
The college needs to increase current enrollment from 100 to 200 by fall 2010, Russell said. Maximum enrollment reached 500 in the mid-1980s.
This is Russell’s second stint on the Hiwassee College staff. From 1983 to 1990 he served as chaplain and coached the women’s softball team to a national title. He has led numerous mission teams oversees and served with his wife, Judy, as a missionary in Bolivia for four years and Argentina for three years.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.