For the past 15 years, Dr. Niece has been the top dog at University of the Ozarks, a private, four-year, comprehensive university located in Clarksville, Arkansas. It's a beautiful campus cradled in the shadow of the Ozark National Forest and academic home to about 600 students.
In addition to the day-to-day running of the university, Rick's an author (his Fanfare for a Hometown series is an award winner) and ambassador for everything the University of the Ozarks has to offer. It's not uncommon for Rick and his wife (errr...make that, First Lady) Sherée to host hundreds of students at social events at their on-campus home.
He's an early riser, which was great for our interview. Rick poured himself a cup of strong, black breakfast tea (one brown sugar cube, thank you very much) and I sipped a steaming cup of Starbuck's Café Verona (black) while we talked about what's going on in his life...
What are you doing these days?
A native of a small town in Ohio, I am currently the President of the University of the Ozarks, a liberal arts campus in Arkansas, located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. My wife, Sherée, is the First Lady of the campus, and we have been here for 15 years. We will retire July 1, 2013, and that will complete 45 years as an educator for me!
Sherée and I have no children, but we do consider ourselves to be the proud "parents" of our 630 students. The President's Home is on the campus, and we love hosting a variety of events in our home for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. In fact, during our 15 years at Ozarks, we've hosted more than 40,000 people at our home for a variety of dinners, receptions and special events.
Our favorite times are with students. This past February, 140 students were in our house to watch the Super Bowl. There's nothing quite like watching the Super Bowl with 140 students! We also have students over for Freshmen Dinners (eight last year), Senior Dinners, Movie Nights, Pumpkin Carving Parties, Chinese New Year celebrations and just to talk. Being around college students is a joy, and they keep us young.
We also love Arkansas. The harsh winters of Northeast Ohio finally wore us down, so the mild winters, but still four seasons, of Arkansas won us over. We will retire in Arkansas in Hot Springs Village, a community of 15,000 people located in 26,000 acres of forest. During retirement, I plan to continue writing and look forward to writing being a new, full-time job.
I will complete book 3 in my Fanfare for a Hometown series about life as a boy, during the 1950s and 60s, in my small hometown of DeGraff, Ohio (population 900). The books are "automythographies," and the first two have been well-received nationally, winning a number of awards.
Sherée and I will also remain active in the church as well as with volunteer work. We believe in being servant leaders and in the reward of serving others.
What time do you get up on a work day?
I get up at 4:30 a.m. and walk to work so that I am in my office before 6:00 a.m. I cherish the time alone before the campus comes to life.
Who would play you in a movie about your life and why?
William H. Macy is my choice. His facial expressions, mannerisms and physical size would represent me well.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Even though I am a University President and spend almost all of my time in social situations representing our campus, I am basically an introvert. Being a lifetime educator makes me appear to be extroverted, but times alone (very rare indeed) with just Sherée are my treasure.
What's your mantra?
"Success can lead to complacency, and complacency will lead to failure" (an original saying I use quite often as a University President).
Where is your favorite vacation?
Sherée and I love to take cruises, and we have enjoyed a number of wonderful ones. But our favorite cruise included the British Isles and the Norwegian Fjords.
Coffee or tea?
I have a workroom by my office where we offer free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cider and water to everyone on campus. We have a selection of more than 30 different teas to choose from, and on Mondays and Fridays, we have 22 dozen donuts, muffins and bagels. I make the first pots of coffee each day, but I have never liked coffee. My preference is tea, a strong, black Irish Breakfast tea with a brown sugar cube.
How do you spend your Saturdays?
When Sherée and I aren't attending an Ozarks' event, we enjoy going to movies. If there are sufficient good movies to see, our best days are seeing three movies, including the popcorn!
Casablanca is the most perfect movie ever filmed. The story of its production makes it all the more fascinating. Also, the ending is exactly right, an ending that current Hollywood film makers would have ruined with a more traditional, let's resolve it romantically conclusion.
Where are you traveling to next?
Sherée and I are traveling to Honduras and Costa Rica to visit with Ozarks alumni. It will be the first of several "Farewell Gatherings," statewide, nationally and internationally, with alumni and friends of the campus.
Dog or Cat?
Three cats adopted us since we've been in Arkansas. Schubert and his late brother, Schumann, arrived our first year. Four years later, Symphony was the first guest to arrive at our Pumpkin Carving Party.
Favorite adult beverage.
Single malt scotch, Macallan 25.
Last time you read a "real" hold-it-in-your-hands newspaper?
Every day. I can't imagine enjoying a newspaper any other way!