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McGovern Center chief Don Simmons resigns from job at DWU

Don Simmons

Don Simmons, director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service and dean of the College of Leadership and Public Service, has resigned his position at Dakota Wesleyan University.

"As I said to (DWU President) Bob Duffett and (Provost) Amy Novak, it's the right time for me to look at other opportunities," Simmons said in a Wednesday phone interview.

He will remain in the job through the end of the academic year, which concludes in May. His announcement came just a week after DWU President Bob Duffett announced his resignation to accept a university presidency in Pennsylvania.

Simmons, 50, said he has no other job under consideration, but he plans to take the holidays off and "think about what I want to do." He said he would consider future administrative positions, but he would be equally content in the classroom.

Simmons felt it was appropriate to notify DWU and give the university the time it needs to find the right person for the McGovern Center, which is named for the late DWU alumnus George McGovern, who was the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee and a Mitchell native.

Simmons joined the DWU faculty in 2006 as the first full-time director of the McGovern Center and the founding chairman of the DWU Department of Leadership and Public Service.

"Given the recent passing of Sen. McGovern and the transition of leadership at the university, I feel it best that I seek other career opportunities that may be available to me," Simmons said in a DWU news release.

"It's the ideal time," he said later. "There's a transition of leadership and it's time for me to move on and to start a new phase in my life. I hope to find a new project that will inspire me that I can contribute to."

Originally from Mississippi, Simmons said he plans to visit family there and relatives elsewhere during the holidays.

Simmons said he discussed leaving DWU with Duffett well before Duffett accepted a job as president of Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pa. Duffett also will stay at DWU through the end of the academic year before moving on.

"I had promised him I would stay as long as he was at Wesleyan, and when he announced that he was leaving, I just felt that it was an appropriate time to find a new challenge," Simmons said.

Simmons said the August sale of a home he had owned in Moody County since 2003 also contributed to his decision. He has been renting an apartment in Mitchell.

Simmons said he knew when he accepted McGovern's invitation to be director of the McGovern Center that it probably would not be a long-term post.

McGovern's daughter, Ann, praised Simmons in the DWU news release.

"We so appreciate all of Dr. Simmons' efforts," she said. "He took the idea of an academic program for leadership and public service and turned it into reality. My father always thought places like Dakota Wesleyan could educate effectively the next generation of public leaders. Don helped do that during his tenure at DWU. We wish him well."

Duffett said Simmons' work at DWU has helped the institution gain national recognition.

"Don's contacts and creative ideas have helped put the McGovern Center on the map," Duffett said. "His leadership in establishing the Tiger Poll to assess the opinions of South Dakotans on a variety of issues filled a void in the state, as well as creating a multidisciplinary, real-world learning experience for our students."

Simmons was formerly the executive director of the South Dakota Humanities Council, where he founded the South Dakota Center for the Book and the South Dakota Festival of Books.

He received his Ph.D. in history and international studies from the University of Denver. He has published numerous books and journal articles, produced a documentary film, and appeared as a guest on national and international television and radio programs.

Simmons has been active politically over the years at the local, state and national levels. He has been involved in many national political party conventions and has served as a political reporter and analyst for numerous news agencies.

An active participant and supporter of church missions abroad, Simmons worked on malaria control programs in Latin America (Belize and Guatemala) during the 1980s.

Since 2009, he has been active in Kenya with collaborative partnerships involving the Center for the Church and Global AIDS.

While his horizon with DWU doesn't extend past this spring, Simmons has several projects to wrap up.

Two book projects are pending, including a second edited volume on South Dakota history and politics, and another edited book on Christian leadership that has been accepted by a publisher.

Simmons is an assistant coach of the DWU baseball team and wants to help the team to a championship season.

"We've got a team that can definitely win a Great Plains Athletic Conference championship," he said.