LAGRANGE — Dan McAlexander started out as a piano professor.
But these days the 55-year-old Juilliard graduate has no time to tickle the ivories. He’s two months into his tenure as the 25th president of LaGrange College and is busy meeting with students, staff, community leaders and alumni.
“My musical outlet is now singing hymns when I’m at church,” he joked.
Like many college presidents, his days are full and work often stretches into the weekends.
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McAlexander said he is dedicated to maintaining the college’s strengths, such as the close relationship staff and students share.
“It’s a delight to come to work to have purpose,” he said.
His passion for leadership blossomed at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. After serving on the faculty there, he was elevated to associate vice president for planning at the university.
“I found I loved doing that,” he said of his role in administration. “It was exciting work to me. That’s where I really got the bug for university leadership.”
McAlexander spent 23 years in Texas. It’s where he and his wife, Celeste Myall, started their family. They have two daughters, Alice and Anne.
His first day was in July, but it’s only in the past week that life at the college has kicked fully into gear. Students started classes Wednesday, and McAlexander participated in his first convocation at the college that evening.
McAlexander was announced as the college’s president in April following a six-month nationwide search in which more than 100 candidates were considered.
Bill Hodges, chairman of the school’s board of trustees and the search committee that found McAlexander, said that field was eventually whittled down to 11 candidates, and later to three.
McAlexander was the right fit, Hodges said. LaGrange College was looking for someone who valued leadership and serving others.
“LaGrange’s culture is one of the things that truly makes it unique and special,” Hodges said. “In addition to those qualities, we wanted a dynamic leader who could grow enrollment and the endowment, expand the programs and continue the emphasis on academic excellence.”
For McAlexander, LaGrange was the right fit. A native of Hoisington, Kansas, with a population of just under 3,000, McAlexander said he’s at home in a small town and was charmed by LaGrange.
He replaced former president Stuart Gulley, who left in June to become the president of Woodward Academy, an elite prep school in suburban Atlanta. He came to LaGrange from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where he was provost — and a presence on campus.
“It’s quieter around Belmont,” said Marcia McDonald, who replaced McAlexander as provost. “We always knew when he was coming. He has a very vigorous walk. You can feel the energy coming.”
Through a broad smile, McAlexander admitted there’s probably some truth to that. He explained he has a brisk stride — and enthusiasm to match.
But why not, he asks?
“It’s such an exciting environment,” he said. “It’s hard not to have energy.”