Baldwin — The Rev. Ira DeSpain can't seem to get enough of Baker University.
He was born in Baldwin, where his parents both were Baker students. He later followed their lead and graduated from Baker in 1970. Now, he's returned as the new university minister.
DeSpain applied for the position after the Rev. Norton "Butch" Ritter, Baker's first university minister, was appointed as senior minister at the First United Methodist Church in Emporia last November.
"Baker's my alma mater," said DeSpain. "I have always had a deep appreciation of that institution, the atmosphere of the church and the university and how they work together."
AFTER GRADUATING from Baker, DeSpain attended the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. He has served churches in Edgerton, Richmond, Princeton, Greeley, Overland Park and Kansas City, Kan. Before his Baker appointment, he spent seven and a half years at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Olathe.
DeSpain and his wife, Barbara, also a Baker graduate, have a daughter, Jenni, 17, and a son, Dan, 13. The family plans to move to Baldwin this summer.
As minister to the university, DeSpain sees his job as having four key responsibilities.
"First, the administration, faculty and students are my congregation now," he said. To serve them, he will hold a worship service at 11 a.m. on Thursdays in the McKibben Recital Hall of the musical arts building, in addition to offering counseling and pastoral care services.
SECONDLY, DeSpain said, he will continue nurturing the relationship between Baker and churches in the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"I have been a minister for 20 years, so I have developed a strong network of churches," he said. "I want them to know that Baker is there for them and they are there for Baker."
He also will wear the hat of a university administrator at times, and act as a confidant for President Dan Lambert "to bounce ideas off of," DeSpain said.
Among his objectives as Baker's minister, DeSpain hopes to help students clarify their direction in life as they struggle to choose a career or make other difficult decisions.
"No matter what you do, there's a gift from God in there for you to share with other people," he said.
He also would like to see the college acquire or build a university chapel, which could serve not only as a site for the Thursday worship sessions, but also as a location for clergy to hold retreats, he said.