For nearly three decades, J. Richard Chase was a towering figure on Biola’s campus — both in stature and influence.
First as a student, then as a professor, administrator and, ultimately, Biola’s sixth president from 1970 to 1982, Chase was a man of great integrity who modeled academic curiosity and Christian character throughout his life.
The 79-year-old former president, who became known nationally for his effective leadership at Biola and later at Wheaton College in Illinois, died Aug. 20 at his retirement community near Wheaton. In addition to his many professional accomplishments, which include paving the way for Biola to transition from a college to a university, Chase is remembered as an eloquent speaker, a gracious leader and a friend to students.
“The strength and position of Biola University today can be credited in large part to Richard and Mary Chase and their unwavering, inspiring commitment to godly living and Christ-honoring education,” said current Biola President Barry H. Corey.
Chase’s ties to Biola ran deep. He enrolled at Biola in 1948, and while still a student married his high school sweetheart, Mary — the daughter of the man who would soon become Biola’s fifth president, Sam Sutherland. After graduating from Biola with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1951, Chase went on to earn a B.A. in speech education and an M.A. in speech from Pepperdine University. During this time, he taught classes in Biola’s speech department, and eventually became a full-time professor, while also serving as a pastor.
After leaving Southern California in 1956 to earn his Ph.D in speech from Cornell University, Chase returned to Biola in 1961, where he was instrumental in developing the forensics program and debate teams. He served as chairman of the speech department and humanities division, and in 1965, was appointed vice president for academic affairs. In 1970, he became the sixth and youngest president of Biola College, succeeding his father-in-law at the age of 39.
During his 12-year tenure as president, Chase initiated several new programs, oversaw the acquisition of Rosemead School of Psychology and ultimately transitioned Biola from a college to university. At the same time, he was a favorite of students — frequently welcoming them into his home, delivering memorable chapel messages and even suiting up for intramural basketball.
“One of the great burdens of the president’s office is the realization that the pattern for growth is best taught by example,” he once wrote. “Neither the president nor the faculty member can educate effectively by mere declaration; it is better done by demonstration. You can’t legislate educational maturity any more than you can program true spirituality, but both are contagious.”
After his departure from Biola in 1982 to serve as president of Wheaton College, Chase continued his stellar academic career until his retirement in 1993. In 1986, the Religious Heritage of America Foundation named Chase “America’s Outstanding Educator.” In the same year, he was listed among the 100 most effective college presidents in America in a nationwide survey reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He also served as the first chairman of the board of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
At Biola University, Chase’s legacy is recognized by a building named in his honor, Chase Gymnasium. Additionally, at Biola’s 100th anniversary Legacy Gala in February of 2008, Biola awarded Chase a Legacy Award for a distinguished lifetime of leadership and service.
Chase is survived by his wife, Mary; two children, Kenneth Chase and Jennifer Chase Barnard; and seven grandchildren.