Ottawa The president of Ottawa University will leave this summer to become president of Maryville University in St. Louis.
John Neal, Ottawa president since 2000, will end his tenure June 30, he announced Tuesday.
"I have been, and continue to be, outrageously happy at Ottawa," Neal said. "Every day has been a joy here. Eight years has gone by in a heartbeat. But this is an opportunity to have a completely different experience as a president. The last thing I was interested in doing was going to a similar place and doing the same kind of job."
Ottawa, which is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, has approximately 9,000 students on 11 campuses, including international sites in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Maryville is an independent college with 3,200 students on one main campus, with two suburban centers.
James Billick will serve as interim president while a national search is conducted, said Stanley Bettin, a Lyons dentist who serves as the Ottawa board president. Billick, who has worked at Ottawa since 1968, is vice president for academic affairs.
Bettin said he hoped the position would be filled within six months.
"You hate to lose a good leader, and certainly John Neal gave us good leadership," Bettin said. "The board's disappointed he's leaving and (is) very appreciative of his leadership. But we progressed in having a lot of good systems in place because of him, so there shouldn't be too much of a glitch."
Billick said Neal's biggest accomplishments included steering the $20.3 million "Touch the Future" capital campaign, completing a five-year strategic plan, receiving a 10-year accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and opening the new Hull Center for Athletics.
"He's certainly going to be missed," Billick said. "People really liked him, and they thought he did a good job of setting the tone for the whole university, not just the college in Ottawa."
Neal came to Ottawa in 1997 as vice president for adult and professional studies and was appointed president three years later. Previously, he served as dean of the School of Communications at Webster University, also in St. Louis.
Neal said he was looking forward to returning to St. Louis.
"St. Louis really became an adopted home for us," he said.