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THE REAL THING

Jun 13, 2024 | Blog

By: Jay Richard Akkerman, Assistant to the President for Congregational Engagement, NNU Office of University Mission & Ministry

The past few days have been bittersweet. By now, I suspect that most of you have learned that Joel Pearsall, NNU’s 13th president, has announced that he intends to retire next summer.

I’m very happy for Joel, his wife Nikki, as well as their family. They have definitely earned it. And I’m pleased that our campus community will have a year or so to celebrate Joel’s presidency and prepare for new leadership.

But I will definitely miss Joel’s genuine, faithful, wise leadership.

Over the past few years, many of you have asked me about what it’s like to work with Joel as our president. My regular response has been, “Well, Joel Pearsall is the real thing.”

He has consistently modeled what it means to be a genuine, faithful, wise leader.

If you’ve met Joel, then you likely know already that he naturally shuns pretense. Whether it’s with pastors, students, parents, government or community leaders, most often he’ll simply introduce himself with a handshake and simply say, “Hi, I’m Joel.” That’s it.

When I was an undergrad, I never could have imagined calling authority figures by their first names. And yet I hear people address Joel that way all the time — students, faculty, and staff alike. He’s just “Joel” – and he’s fine with that. He’s as genuine as they come.

Joel and Nikki love Christ and the Church immensely. Whether you’ll find Nikki serving kids at College Church on Wednesday nights, or you discover Joel running the sound board at his daughter-in-law’s church on Christmas Eve, the Pearsalls are not about fanfare. They epitomize faithful servanthood.

In early March 2020, Joel’s leadership was refined in the crucible of a pandemic. While none of us knew what laid ahead, or how to navigate the effects of a deadly virus on a residential campus like ours, I witnessed Joel’s wisdom firsthand. Just as H. Orton Wiley guided our fledgling campus through a pandemic in 1918, Joel led through layers of complexity using twenty-first century, collaborative solutions. While some debated our approaches at the time, none of our students, staff, or faculty were lost as a result of Covid-19, and we were able to return to on-campus learning that fall, far ahead of many other institutions.

Joel and Nikki love the NNU community, whether they’re traditional undergraduates, online grad  students completing a degree from the other side of the globe, or someone on our deep employee bench – each of whom they strive to know by name. More than once I’ve seen them on the road well before dawn, driving hundreds of miles or hopping a red-eye flight following a district assembly in order to be back in Nampa for an employee’s adoption party, or a team’s senior night, or an end-of-year concert. Across the years, they have consistently gone the extra mile for our community.

That’s why Joel’s pending retirement comes as a bittersweet announcement for me. I suspect many of you could share similar stories about Joel and Nikki. Fortunately, we have a year of opportunities to share our gratitude with them — and as we do, I fully expect that Joel will just chuckle humbly in return, along with that wry grin of his.

Why? Because Joel and Nikki Pearsall are the real thing.

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