The legacy of the President of the State of Lake Superior remains
Sault Ste. Married – A few years ago, Lake Superior State University alumnus Amanda Cady walked from the library to the arts center in the pouring rain. She passed many people with umbrellas before meeting LSSU President Thomas C. Pleger.
“Suddenly it stopped raining on me,” Cady wrote on her Facebook page Sunday. “I turned to see an unknown man to my left. “Do you want to share my umbrella with me?” This is how I met President Pleger. It was a simple gesture but one that made a lasting impression. I am shocked to learn this morning that he is gone.
Cady joined many in the Upper Peninsula and beyond in mourning the unexpected death of Pleger, who died early Sunday, two days after undergoing brain surgery. He was 48 years old.
A leader who has been hailed as down-to-earth with a magnetic personality, Pleger visited Sault Ste. Marie’s War Memorial Hospital, where an MRI scan revealed swelling in her brain and growth wrapped around the right frontal lobe, officials said. He was immediately transferred to McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, where he was evaluated on Thursday and underwent surgery lasting several hours on Friday.
He was in the intensive care unit with his family when he died early Sunday.
“Everyone is in shock,” said Jay Gage, special assistant to the president. “The wave of community support has been huge. Everyone is in pain because he meant so much to so many people.
Discussions were ongoing about a candlelight vigil in the community, Gage said, as many changed their profile pictures on Facebook for the LSSU logo in honor of a president who tried to excite students on lifelong learning and encouraged people to call him, simply, Tom.
“Thanks to President Thomas C. Pleger for a warm and welcoming freshman year,” LSSU student Kali Fyke wrote on Pleger’s Facebook page. “You have made an impact on every student and on Lake Superior State University as a whole. Going into my final year won’t be the same.
Acting Marshal David Roland Finley, who will take over the day-to-day operations of the school, offered his condolences to Pleger’s family.
“Tom was a tremendous leader and advocate for the LSSU as well as a personal friend,” said Finley. “His time with us has been cut short, but his legacy lives on through the many lives he touched. The positive impact he had on this campus will be felt for many years to come.
Pleger was the eighth president of the LSSU, arriving at the state’s smallest public university in July 2014 with his 26-year-old wife, Teresa. He often posted personal photos on his Facebook page from the explorations the couple shared in the community, like how they celebrated their birthday last month.
“Teresa Pleger and I went to Barsanti’s in Canada for a great dinner of grilled white fish at Lake Superior,” he wrote. “It was a great way to celebrate my birthday together.”
Pleger held a doctorate in archeology and anthropology and was a licensed archaeologist specializing in the Upper Great Lakes region and the use of copper technology by prehistoric Native Americans.
Prior to coming to Michigan, he spent 21 years serving the University of Wisconsin system, with his last position as campus general manager and dean of UW Baraboo-Sauk County.
“He will surely be missed by many of Thomas C. Pleger’s family and friends, and two major state university systems have lost an education champion,” Dixon Harvey Dudderar wrote on Pleger’s Facebook page.
During his tenure at LSSU, Pleger championed many initiatives on campus, including the development of a flat rate tuition fee plan.
He also led the university’s work to obtain re-accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
At the state level, Pleger secured funding for the proposed center for freshwater research and education and served on the 21st Century Economics Commission of Governor Rick Snyder, the only member of the upper peninsula.
Pleger has spoken often about the importance of the public good of higher education in a variety of forums, mainstream and academic posts to his Facebook page, as well as the emails he sends periodically to the LSSU community.
In April, he wrote an opinion letter in The Detroit News on the value of a college education.
“College is a transformational experience,” Pleger wrote. “A true university education exposes new ideas, new subjects, different people and perspectives, and develops skills of critical thinking, an understanding of mathematics and science, communication skills, information literacy , an appreciation and understanding of the human condition, an appreciation of the arts, global awareness and a thirst for lifelong learning. These skills also enhance and promote empathy, creativity, curiosity and adaptability.
“Return on investment is a series of highly sought-after skills that lead to opportunities …
Officials said they would announce details of campus funeral arrangements and memorials soon. Donations to a fund in memory of Dr. Pleger will be coordinated by the LSSU Foundation, 650 W. Easterday Ave., Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783.
“President Pleger was a remarkably dedicated and compassionate person,” said Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities. “Those who were lucky enough to have known him will miss the warmth, wisdom, passion and authenticity he has shown in his personal and professional life. He made the world a better place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.