Carmen Cavezza to retire Columbus State University at end of this year

Saying it’s time to slow down and enjoy his personal life more, Carmen Cavezza said Monday he will retire as executive director of Columbus State University’s Cunningham Center for Leadership Development at the end of this year.

“The reality is it’s time to move on and make some room for new people coming in,” said Cavezza, a three-star general who retired in 1994 after 33 years in the U.S. Army, including a stint as Fort Benning’s commander.

“I’ve been driven pretty hard, I think, for a while because there’s been so much going on, and I’ve been part of it, and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “But now, I kind of want to wander around a little bit.”

Set to turn 75 in late November, his job résumé after leaving the military includes executive director of the Columbus ’96 Support Committee, an Olympic softball organization and executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports & Events Council. He became Columbus’ city manager in 1997 and took the Cunningham Center position upon the 65,000-square-foot facility’s opening in 2005.

The building features a conference center, a Leadership Institute and a technology incubator. It also organizes annual events, such as the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum and the Women’s Leadership Conference. It has about a dozen staffers. Cavezza also oversees CSU’s continuing education operation.

CSU President Tim Mescon said he has known for a couple of years that Cavezza had a desire to step down by the end of 2012. The decision was announced at a staff meeting Monday morning, with Mescon later saying it comes with mixed emotions. He called the former Army officer “tireless” in his work ethic and a “go-to person” when sound advice and counsel is needed.

“He has been an incredible mentor and leadership example for me,” Mescon said. “And I’ve benefitted mightily from his guidance and direction. To so many, besides the incredible successes that he’s led with his team at the Cunningham Center — which are extraordinary — he has also to great extent been one of the university’s primary voices in the community.”

Aside from service to his nation and the city, the CSU president noted Cavezza’s work with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. He was chairman of the organization and is heading up its Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax initiative, which should be decided in July.

“His impact there is incredible,” Mescon said. “He’s also chairing the National Infantry Museum board. He had a direct hand in helping to orchestrate the commemorative coin, produced by the U.S. Mint, which is providing a very important resource stream to the museum. He’s very active in leadership roles in many, many national organizations as well.”

In fact, the museum is one of the few endeavors Cavezza does not plan to cut back on. He will remain as chairman of the National Infantry Foundation board, working to raise $15 million to pay off debt owed on the $100-million museum that is dedicated to telling the U.S. Infantry’s story.

“I feel like I’ve got an obligation to do that until we pay it off, at least,” he said. “I don’t want to run out on that obligation, but I’m going to cut back significantly every place else.”

Cavezza, who with his wife, Joyce, traveled extensively during his military career, don’t plan to hit the road incessantly like many retirees do. Instead, they will concentrate on doing things around their home and the city.

“We like Columbus. We like the area, and this is a very convenient area for short-duration trips and stuff like that, which we enjoy doing,” he said. “We’re focused now to kind of just kick back a little bit and enjoy life more.”

Mescon said the search for Cavezza’s successor could begin within the next few weeks, knowing that “these are some enormous shoes to fill.” The CSU president wants to build on the “reinvigorated connection” the outgoing director has established with Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and with the Army and Department of Defense.

Mescon called it one of the “greatest of pleasures” to work with Cavezza in his more than three decades of employment in higher education.

Cavezza said he hopes the person who replaces him at the Cunningham Center will be someone who is “conceptual” and constantly looks for new opportunities and is motivated to grow the organization. He called the job a “great ride” because of the momentum the university has built in recent years.

“When Frank Brown asked me to come up here and kind of turned it over to me and let me have a free hand — and Dr. Mescon has followed the same pursuit — it’s just been a lot of fun doing things that I think have been productive,” Cavezza said. “We’ve built a great team out here, and I think we’re making a contribution, not just to this region, but we’re spreading out. I feel really good about what we have accomplished.”

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