SAULT STE. MARIE, MI.)– Lake Superior State University President Thomas Pleger died suddenly on Sunday, May 7th after undergoing brain surgery in Petoskey, Michigan. He was 48.
On Wednesday, May 4, Dr. Pleger was taken to War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie and subsequently transferred to McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, where he was evaluated through Thursday and underwent surgery Friday, May 5. He was in the ICU recovering with family before passing early Sunday morning, May 7.
Dr. Pleger’s tenure as LSSU’s eighth president began July 1, 2014. Prior to moving to Michigan, he spent 21-years serving throughout the University of Wisconsin system, most recently as Campus Executive Officer and Dean at UW Baraboo-Sauk County. He held a doctorate in Archeology and Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was a licensed archeologist specializing in the Upper Great Lakes region and the use of copper technology by prehistoric Native Americans.
“Dr. Pleger had an appreciation and understanding of the human condition, of the arts, and of global awareness,” said LSSU Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Curran. “Tom knew that the value of a higher education is much more than gaining credentials and potential earning power. It is a catalyst for empowering those around you to find opportunity and a pathway to a rich and fulfilling life. He embodied those values and his life stands as a testament to the example he set. It was an honor serving with him over the past two years as board chair.”
Dr. Pleger is the first president to pass while in office. Interim Provost David Roland Finley will be assuming day-to-day operations, assisted by a senior university team, until LSSU’s Board of Trustees sets the next course of action.
“Tom was a tremendous leader and advocate for LSSU as well as a personal friend,” said Finley. “His time with us was cut short, but his legacy remains through the many lives that he touched. The positive impact he had on this campus will be felt for many years to come. I extend my profound condolences to Teresa and the family. On behalf of the university, we ask that you keep the Pleger family in your thoughts.”
Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, issued the following statement Sunday upon hearing the news of the sudden death of Lake Superior State University President Thomas Pleger late Saturday night:
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Tom Pleger. This is heartbreaking news for his family, Lake Superior State, and the entire Northern Michigan community. Tom was dedicated to higher education and the importance of liberal education, and he was overwhelmingly committed to the success of the students of LSSU. Outside his professional career, Tom along with his wife Teresa loved the outdoors and enjoyed many hours on the St. Marys River and the Great Lakes. Tom Pleger will be missed. My condolences go out to Teresa and the LSSU community.”
As president, Dr. Pleger was a guiding force in the implementation of campus initiatives, including the development of a One Rate tuition plan that is now used as a model for several other universities across the country. As a determined promoter of higher education, he spoke of the importance of a broad education in the liberal arts, and of the public good of higher education.
Under his leadership, the LSSU navigated its R.W. Considine Hall Renovation project towards completion, gained reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, and addressed structural deficits and long-term financial health. A leader in the state, Dr. Pleger was not only able to secure capital outlay funding for the proposed Center for Freshwater Research and Education, but served as well with distinction on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Economy Commission, the only member from the Upper Peninsula.
Dr. Pleger encouraged collaboration throughout the region, meeting regularly with presidents of neighboring colleges and universities. As a result, Dr. Pleger, along with the presidents of Northern Michigan University and Michigan Technological University, received special recognition from Gov. Snyder at the 2015 Economic and Education Summit.