Man in Black Kept EMU in the Black

May 14th, 2013

Ron PiperMild-mannered Ron Piper is still remembered for a bold fashion statement he made 20 years ago. As EMU’s vice president for finance, he was getting ready to report to the board of trustees on the university’s budget. Typically his report was scheduled right before lunch. He never had much time.

This time he was ready with a dramatic testament to the state of the budget. Piper stood up and said quietly, “I chose my wardrobe carefully today – and this says it all.” He then sat down. Piper was wearing a black suit, black shirt, and black tie. It took several seconds for board members to realize that EMU’s finances were safely in the black.

For 24 years, Piper’s primary job was to balance – or at least try to balance – EMU’s budget. He retired in 2010, succeeded by Daryl Bert ‘97.

Piper arrived on campus in 1986 at a low point in the school’s history. The Administration Building had been destroyed by fire, the finances were shaky and the enrollment had dropped to a full-time-equivalent of 747. (“I still remember that number,” Piper said.) His temporary office was above the kitchen in Northlawn.

President Richard Detweiler ’49 commented that he was presiding over “a time of austerity.”

But two weeks later the gleaming new Campus Center opened on the site of the former Ad Building – “and it was onward and upward after that,” said Piper.

The enrollment started going up again. The budget grew from $7 million to $29 million by the time Piper retired. And soon the board of trustees elected Joe Lapp ‘66 as its visionary new president.

Piper vividly remembers his $20,000 shopping trip in 1987 to buy EMU’s first personal computers and printers. He put them in the back of his car and delivered them to four different offices on campus.

A few years later he proudly reported to the board that telephones had been installed in every dormitory room. It wasn’t long, though, until most students had their own cell phones and the land-line phones were removed.

Piper, a certified public accountant, came to EMU after 11 years with a Big Eight CPA firm in Denver and New York City, three years at a mining and manufacturing company in Colorado, and five years with Mennonite Board of Missions in Elkhart, Ind. A native of Iowa, his undergraduate degree – in accounting – was from the University of Iowa.

While Piper was at EMU for 24 years, his wife Myrna worked in the development office at Eastern Mennonite High School for 24 years. Daughter Jenni Piper ’92 is now an associate director of information systems at EMU. Son Mike Piper ’95 is the controller at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.

In retirement, Piper, now 69, is frequently called on to help local organizations with their finances. They include Park View Federal Credit Union, Our Community Place, Eastern Mennonite School, the Auxiliary of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, Lezha Academic Center in Albania, and his church – Zion Mennonite.

The man in black is still balancing budgets – or trying to. And he still likes to wear black.  — Steve Shenk ’73