September 20th, 2023
E. LaVerne Epp, who served as president of Bethel College from 2002-05, died Sept. 18 in Lawrence, Kan., at the age of 73.
At the time of his death, Epp was executive chair of KU Innovation Park (previously known as the KU Bioscience and Technology Center) at the University of Kansas, which he had led since 2006.
Under his leadership, the center went through two major expansions, as it attracted companies – ranging from small start-ups to Garmin – that wanted the access to KU researchers and students.
Epp completed his primary and secondary education at Henderson (Neb.) Community School, and enrolled at Bethel College in 1968. A history major, he participated in choral ensembles and other musical activities.
He received a Thresher Award for history and social science in 1972, and graduated from Bethel with honors that year. During the following year, he worked as an admissions counselor and a member of the development staff at Bethel.
In 1976, Epp earned a law degree at the University of Nebraska College of Law at Lincoln. He joined the Newton law firm Adrian and Walker, and for 10 years was a partner in Adrian and Epp, P.A. He also served as Hesston (Kan.) Municipal Court judge and taught several classes at Hesston College.
Epp was founding principal, and served as secretary and general counsel, for Retirement Management Company, based in Lawrence, from 1986-93, and was CEO of the company from 1993-2001. Its flagship community was Brandon Woods in Lawrence.
Epp served on the Bethel College Board of Directors, including chairing the Presidential Search Committee after the resignation of Doug Penner in 2002. This led to the board ultimately appointing Epp to the presidency for one term.
Among his accomplishments was the completion and dedication of Thresher Sports Complex (stadium, track and Joe W. Goering Field) in 2005. Epp will also be remembered for overseeing a difficult program review process that resulted in significant changes to Bethel’s academic curriculum.
“LaVerne’s first passion at Bethel was the students,” said Sondra Bandy Koontz, who worked with Epp as vice president for institutional advancement. “He loved talking with them and made a point of learning their names and discovering their goals.
“On the one occasion students protested outside his office [during the program review], he served them cookies.
“LaVerne was always interested in projects that made Bethel stronger. Thresher Stadium and the sports complex are among his legacies.”
Epp chaired the Kansas Governor’s Council on Aging and served on boards for Mennonite Health Services, Schowalter Villa in Hesston, Prairie View Mental Health Services in Newton, Kidron-Bethel Retirement Services (now Bluestem Communities) in North Newton, Meadowlark Homestead in Newton, the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra and Kansas Brass.
After leaving Bethel, Epp moved into the position at KU Innovation Park, one of the largest university-affiliated economic development engines in the Midwest. He guided the center through its groundbreaking in 2009 to its current development.
KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said Epp was a talented leader who made meaningful connections in the community.
“Beyond his professional achievements, LaVerne will be remembered for his extraordinary kindness and the way he treated people,” Girod said in a statement.
“He was humble, gracious and deliberate about sharing credit – because he truly believed every success was a team effort. Most significantly, LaVerne took genuine interest in everyone he met and made everyone around him feel important.”
Epp was a trustee for the KU Center for Research and served as an advisory board member for the Entrepreneurial Council of the KU School of Business, where he was also a lecturer.
He was a member of the board of directors of Lifespace Communities Inc., a national retirement community company based in Dallas, and of the board of directors of the Douglas County Community Foundation. In 2015, he was named to the Lawrence Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
An avid reader of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Epp returned to Bethel for several January interterms to teach a popular class called Emerson Meets Business.
Epp had a lifelong love of sports and enjoyed watching the Kansas City Chiefs, Nebraska Cornhuskers football and various KU teams.
He also enjoyed spending summers in Santa Fe, where he could satisfy his love of classical music by attending the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra and Santa Fe Opera productions. Being able to savor the mountain climate there with his family each summer was a special joy.
Epp is survived by his wife, Marilyn (Crabb) Epp, a 1972 Bethel graduate; three children, Tyler (Melissa), Paul and Susie; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church, Lawrence, on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m.
Memorials can be made to the LaVerne Epp Memorial Fund at the Douglas County Community Foundation (DCCFoundation.org), and will benefit the KU Innovation Park (KUInnovationPark.com) and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044.