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Richard Chase, former Biola president, dies

Former Biola President Richard Chase died Friday, August 20 of natural causes at age 79. Chase, Biola's sixth president, served for 12 years. | Photo courtesy of Biola

Students compared him to Abraham Lincoln. His eloquent speech, tall height, and angular features earned him the comparison, but it was his relationship with the Lord and his vision for Biola that made him the respected man many remember today.

Richard Chase, who served as Biola’s president from 1970 to 1982, died of natural causes Friday, Aug. 20. The 79-year-old man died in his home at Windsor Park Manor retirement community in Carol Stream, Ill., leaving behind his wife, Mary, two children, and a grateful university.

“The strength and position of Biola University today can be credited in large part to Richard Chase and [his] unwavering, inspiring commitment to godly living and Christ-honoring education,” current Biola president Barry Corey said in a statement.

Chase's legacy at Biola

Biola named Chase Gymnasium after the former president, who, friends of Chase said, frequented the gym to play basketball with students and faculty. Chase also helped Biola merge with Rosemead School of Psychology in 1977.

Ken Bascom, senior director of facilities planning at Biola, said Biola owes much of its academic standing to Chase.

“I remember him coming back from a trip to colleges and universities across the country,” Bascom said. “There was active discussion about Biola changing its name. Many people from Chase’s era felt like we were never outgrowing the image of being a Bible institute. Chase came back from that trip and said, ‘We have turned the corner; the Biola name has grown to be respected and has outgrown its humble beginnings.’ After that, there was no more talk about changing the name of Biola.”

Chase graduated from Biola in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in theology and worked as the chairman of Biola’s speech department. In 1970, five years after becoming Biola’s vice president, Chase became Biola’s sixth president. Chase served at Biola for 12 more years before moving to Illinois to become the sixth president of Wheaton College. There, he served 11 years before retiring in 1993.

Chase returned to Biola for the ground breaking of Biola’s current library in 2000 and for Biola’s centennial celebration in 2008.

Biola's favorite memories of Chase

Bascom said he still remembers watching the former president walk into Mayers Auditorium to teach a speech class Bascom took in 1967.

“The students I hung around with had a tremendous respect for him from the start,” Bascom said. “The 60s were turbulent. We had our share of political discussions. Chase was a really good pressure release valve. He got sent in to talk to some of us students who fancied ourselves to be intelligent and ahead of the times. He handled those situations very well.”

“I remember him as a warm and friendly person, but also was impressed by his thoughtful and professional approach to his work as president,” said Keith Edwards, who worked at Rosemead and took part in negotiations when it merged with Biola. “The merger was a major move for Biola and it had several potential challenges. [Chase] had a deep conviction that this was in Biola’s interest and pursued it. He was kind and thoughtful, but assertive and decisive.”

“He was a very intelligent and capable person,” said David Holmquist, who has been Biola’s athletic director for 33 years now.

Holmquist, who recalled many pleasant tennis games with the former president, said he knew Chase as a young boy. His relationship with Chase grew when he began working at Biola in 1978. “He was a man of deep faith. There was also a kindness about him, an ability to listen to people. I just felt he was a very easy person to be with, a very humble and unpretentious man.”

When Biola was struggling to gain credentials, Bascom said God used Chase to turn Biola into a Christian university.

Chase honored at Biola

The Chronicle of Higher Education named Chase one of the 100 most effective college presidents in America in a 1986 nationwide survey, and Biola awarded Chase a legacy award for “A Distinguished Lifetime of Leadership and Service” in 2008.

“I am so encouraged by the caliber of the Chase family and honored to be able to express on behalf of Biola University our prayers and sympathy for the loss of such a wonderful father, husband and Christian leader,” Corey said in his statement. “I knew when I met him I'd met a giant. Not only was he a man of academic vision and administrative strength, he was a servant of the people and he loved students.”

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