• Michael D. Shonrock
  • Michael D. Shonrock

  • ESU’s President Listens

  • By Bill Noblitt

    Shortly after Dr. Michael D. Shonrock began his Emporia State presidency, the Bulletin interviewed him. Shonrock was asked why he needed a luxury vehicle? Shonrock’s reply: “If you’ll check the parking lot I turned that car in and now I’m driving a Ford Taurus.”

    “In my opinion, he wants to be closer to the students and faculty and one way to get close to them is to drive the kind of car they drive,” says Steve Catt, professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre.

    Catt was in Arizona having dinner with friends and told them the car story. A retired professor, who had taught at a university in Louisiana, was stunned. “I’ve never heard of a university president turning in a more expensive car for a less expensive one,” the man said. “You have a winner there.”

    “It’s not human nature to do that,” Catt says now. “Someone offers you something nice, and you take it.”

    And Shonrock seems to be everywhere. “I find it hard to walk across campus without running into him,” Catt says. “There must be five or six of him.” 

    At a Kansas City student recruitment event, Catt remembers Karen, Shonrock’s wife, coming up to him and asking: “Where’s Michael?”

    “If I were you, I wouldn’t go too far because he’ll be back by again,” Catt remembers saying. “If we had bloodhounds, they’d get exhausted trying to keep up with him. If they would just lie down, he’d come by again and trip over them.”

    Catt admires Shonrock’s accessibility to faculty and students—in fact, everyone in the community. “He makes you feel important,” he says.

    Chris Walker, editor and publisher of the Emporia Gazette, agrees. “He has an amazing ability to connect with people.” “He shakes hands and talks with everyone, even if it’s a small child. Through these connections, he gets people excited about Emporia State.”

    “I think he is making his presence known,” adds Jeanine McKenna, president of the Chamber of Commerce. “He’s listening to the community and is acting on what he’s hearing.” McKenna tells the story of walking across campus with Shonrock one day when they came across a group of prospective students and their parents taking a university tour. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to say hello to them,” he said to her.

    “You could tell by the reaction of the students and their parents that his visit made a huge impact on them,” she recalls.

    “He’s just a bubble of energy!” declares Ashley Vogts, president of ESU’s Associated Student Government. “He inspires you to want to do better for the university.

    “He knows I’m going to the University of Kansas Medical Center for graduate work, and so he talked to the KU president about me,” Vogts says. “He’s still helping me further my education. I know he’s done the same thing for other students.”

    “Dr. Shonrock is appreciative of people’s efforts no matter their role,” explains Lana Oleen, who received her bachelor’s in 1972 and her master’s in 1977 from Emporia State. Currently the chair of the ESU Foundation, she notes that Shonrock “sees challenges and translates them into opportunities.”

    “He has a great sense of humor too,” she adds. “He relates anecdotes that are fun and on point in order to get ESU where it needs to be. His energizing efforts are spreading throughout the campus.”

    Oleen also likes the way he handles the media and other groups. “He’s well received by the Regents and the other presidents of Kansas universities,” she points out. “He reaches out to people to tell the Emporia State story.”

    Steve Sauder, a 1968 ESU graduate, owner of Emporia’s Radio Stations, Inc. and a member of the Executive Committee of the Emporia State Foundation, says: “Dr. Shonrock makes everyone feel they have input into solutions. The letter ‘I’ is not in his alphabet.”

    Sauder relates how Shonrock helped the Executive Committee choose the new president for the Foundation, DenaSue Potestio. “During our meeting, everyone on the committee wanted to know what Shonrock thought,” he says. “Instead of telling us what he thought, he asked us probing questions about each of the candidates for the position and led us through the process.

    “It was a microcosm of the way he leads,” Sauder explains.