Leading with Heart

Dr. Brad Johnson Assumes Role as 17th President of College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks staff, faculty, and students welcomed Dr. Brad Johnson and his family to campus. June 1, 2022, was his first day to serve as the 17th president of this historical college. Johnson is a veteran in higher education and a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).

He knows it was no accident that God led him here.

“I’m very thankful that we are at C of O,” Johnson said, referring to his family, wife Laura, and their children -- Evan, 16, and Elle, 14. “As a person of faith, I believe the Lord has everything to do with directing our steps. I believe the College is a great fit for me personally and our family. We love it here!”

On April 27, 2022, the Board of Trustees announced that Johnson, former interim president of Southwest Baptist University (SBU), would lead College of the Ozarks as its next president.

“The C of O Board of Trustees welcomes Dr. and Mrs. Brad Johnson to Hard Work U.,” said Shawn McKenzie, chairman of the board. “As president, we know Dr. Johnson will continue to carry out the important mission of College of the Ozarks.”

Johnson worked at SBU since 2012 as vice president for institutional advancement. At SBU, he also served 10 months as interim president. Before his time at SBU, Johnson held administrative positions at McMurry University, Hardin-Simmons University, and two stints at Howard Payne University, all in Texas. At SBU and Howard Payne, he raised more than $57 million in cash gifts and managed $41 million in estate gifts. Under Johnson’s leadership, SBU’s endowment increased by 94 percent, and the student scholarship endowment grew by 61 percent.

Johnson has taught Adolescent Psychology, University Transitions, and served as a dissertation advisor for students in SBU’s doctorate of educational leadership program. While in Texas, he was a peer reviewer for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

“Laura and I are grateful to God for this wonderful opportunity and are delighted to join the C of O family and roll up our sleeves at Hard Work U.,” Johnson said. “I am deeply appreciative to the Board of Trustees for its confidence in me and am extraordinarily thankful to Dr. Davis for his leadership and immeasurable legacy at this outstanding institution. Laura and I fell in love with the faculty, staff, and students during the interview process and look forward to working together to advance the mission and build upon the rich heritage of the College. Great days are ahead!”

Next Phase

Read on to hear from both Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Laura Lacey Johnson as they share their hearts on how God called them to lead College of the Ozarks into the next phase of its incredible history:

How do you feel about the College’s traditional American values, like hard work, honesty, integrity, and hospitality?

I am excited about advancing the mission of College of the Ozarks because my faith and beliefs align with the organizational culture at Hard Work U. I hold common ground with the students, as I have walked in their shoes. Like them, I worked while earning my undergraduate and graduate degrees to help pay for my education.

Growing up on the farm, I learned early in life the value of hard work, sacrifice, and trusting God when the storms of life hit. The Gaetz Tractor Museum on campus reminds me of the vital life lessons learned during those formative years on the family farm. In addition, my family and I have lived in the Ozarks for almost 10 years, and we appreciate the Midwest culture and family values afforded by this area. I see the presidency of College of the Ozarks as an opportunity to champion the values that will preserve the best of our society and forge leaders that will carry these principles forward for the glory of God and the betterment of mankind.

What is your heart for Veterans, and do you expect the College to continue honoring servicemen and women, as it has in the past?

Absolutely! We are thrilled about how the College honors the men and women who serve and have sacrificed for our country. We live in the best country in the world, and I want to help teach the next generation – starting with my own children — the values of civic responsibility, love of country, and a willingness to defend the United States of America. I look forward to building on and expanding programs like the E. Bruce Heilman Patriotic Education Travel Program and the Bobcat GOLD Program, so that more students understand and appreciate the sacrifices made for the freedoms we enjoy.

My grandfather landed in Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. He and his unit mounted the assault on the Maeda Escarpment, better known as “Hacksaw Ridge.” They endured brutal fighting, often in hand-to-hand combat. He was wounded in battle and awarded the Purple Heart for his combat actions. After returning home, he became a pastor, where he helped others heal the wounds of their hearts while carrying the scars of war in his. His example taught me the value of sacrificing for our great nation and answering God’s call upon my life.

Why is family so important to you and what impact does that emphasis have on students, staff, faculty, and the community?

I believe the family is God’s chosen vehicle to nurture the future generation for service in His Kingdom. As president, my family and I plan to be very engaged with students. We want to have them in our home often and serve as role models who reflect Christ’s love and the values of College of the Ozarks.

We have a tradition in our home where we ask students and guests to sign their names on a platter when they come for a meal. During my career, we have gathered signatures from students and parents across the globe and have prayed for them regularly. We continued the tradition here at College of the Ozarks and have already filled three platters with signatures.

You seem to connect strongly with the Christian pillar of the College. Do you feel the Lord’s hand on you in this moment, leading you to this College?

As I think about God’s calling on my life, I believe He has uniquely prepared me to lead in Christian higher education, specifically at College of the Ozarks. One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire, and in it, Eric Liddell explains his faith and love for running like this: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Like Eric Liddell, I feel God’s pleasure in my work. Christian higher education is my passion, and I am honored to champion the goals and values of the College.

I came to know Jesus Christ as my Savior at age five and have worked to live out my faith at the Christian higher education institutions where I have served. I value the Christian mission of College of the Ozarks. I am deeply committed to a historic Christian faith and the evangelical traditions.

Dr. Brad Johnson
The Board of Trustees has announced that Dr. Brad Johnson, former interim president of Southwest Baptist University, will lead College of the Ozarks as its next president. Johnson’s term began June 1, 2022.
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Mrs. Laura Lacey Johnson
Laura Lacey Johnson brings charisma, enthusiasm, hope, and a prayerful heart as she steps into service at College of the Ozarks.
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A student-produced video gives a peek at Dr. Johnson's first day.