Margaret Preska

A photo in Minnesota State University’s digital archives collection shows former university president Margaret Preska in 1992. Preska died Wednesday at age 83.

The Free Press

MANKATO — Former Minnesota State University president Margaret Preska, the first woman to serve in the role, died Wednesday at age 83.

Preska led the university from 1979 to 1992, a time of enrollment growth and construction on the Mankato campus. MSU’s newest residence hall, finished in 2012, bears her name.

The long-time president was a “student-focused leader,” a “champion of learning” and a “true Maverick to the end,” wrote current MSU President Edward Inch in an email to staff announcing Preska’s passing Wednesday.

“She had a profound impact on the university and helped set it on the path to become the flagship institution it is today,” stated Inch.

He offered condolences to Preska’s family on behalf of the MSU community. Preska is survived by three children, Robert, William and Ellen. Her husband, Dan, died in 2017.

Preska became MSU’s 10th president in 1979 after previously serving as the vice president of academic affairs and equal opportunity officer from 1975 to 1979. Although she was the first woman president at MSU, the institution had a woman principal, Julie Sears, from 1872-1873 when it was known as the Mankato Normal School.

Under Preska’s tenure, MSU’s enrollment increased to 16,500 students, according to a biography in MSU’s digital archives.

The archives detail several construction projects on campus while she led the university. The Ostrander-Student Bell Tower, Wissink Center, Memorial Library addition and Andreas Observatory were all built while she was president.

Three more projects — the Wiecking Annex, Pennington Hall and the Alumni and Foundation Building — came later from her efforts to raise private funding through MSU’s foundation. The Wiecking project was reportedly the first privately funded building for state use, according to the archives.

Preska earned her undergrad degree from SUNY Brockport before earning a master’s degree at Pennsylvania State University, a doctoral degree at Claremont Graduate University, and further studying at Manchester College of Oxford University.

She started her career in education as a kindergarten teacher and high school history teacher in California. Before coming to MSU, she was the academic dean at California’s LaVerne College.

After her presidency, she went back to teaching history as the scholar in residence at Winona State University between 1993 and 1998. She later served as founding CEO of Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates from 1998 to 2000.

Preska remained active in the MSU community “long after her retirement,” Inch stated in the email, adding she’d often attend campus events. MSU is planning a memorial service for her on campus in early summer 2022.

Her family requests memorials in lieu of flowers to be sent to the Preska Scholar Program Endowment, which is through the Minnesota State Mankato Foundation. MSU will post an “in memorium” section on its website Thursday to share more about her impact on the university.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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