SMC mourns former college president
President Briegel, who guided SMC as its fifth president from 1981-1998, died Wednesday.
President Briegel came to SMC as business manager on Feb. 19, 1967 — just five months after the college opened for students in September 1966.
He was later promoted to vice president for business, a post he held until his appointment as president in 1981 upon the retirement of President Dr. Russell “M” Owen. He served until he retired on July 1, 1998. Briegel continued to serve the college as a part-time special projects employee until retiring completely in the summer of 2013.
The Board of Trustees on Dec. 13, 2013, voted unanimously to name the College Services Building after Briegel — the only president so honored.
Between 14 years in his business role, 17 years as president and 15 years of part-time service, he devoted 46 years to SMC.
“David Briegel was a tremendous leader and advocate of Southwestern Michigan College,” said Dr. David Mathews, SMC’s seventh president from 2001-2019. “He worked tirelessly to guide and to represent SMC in Lansing and in the community. Even after retirement, he continued to serve as a resource with his wealth of knowledge and commitment to SMC. He will be greatly missed.”
As part-time administrator, Briegel oversaw construction of the third residence hall, the new college bookstore in the former museum building, the one-stop Student Service Center, new entryways at Cherry Grove and Dailey roads, Alumni Plaza, fundraising and lobbying.
Born in Holland, Briegel’s family moved to Grand Rapids when he was 2 years old. He graduated from Ottawa High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1959.
He added a master’s degree in 1963, worked with Oldsmobile Corp. and taught school in Grand Rapids before coming to Dowagiac.
In 1962, he married Camille Solvie, who retired after teaching music for 25 years in the Dowagiac school system. Their daughter, Carrie, became a school counselor. Their son, Steven, an SMC honors graduate, died of cancer in 1990, and Steve’s Run continues in his memory.
“He was my best friend,” said Ron Gunn, who spoke to Briegel almost daily by phone.
After flying to Rochester, Minnesota, to be with the Briegels as Steven neared the end of his life, Gunn collaborated with the family to turn the renowned Road and Trail Race into a tribute to their son, who had worked for the Athletic Department.
Briegel arrived at SMC three months before Gunn, said the pair really hit it off.
“We both liked sports and had a rivalry between me liking Notre Dame and him rooting for MSU. He appreciated what I was doing for the college and we worked closely. As an administrator, he was firm, but fair,” Gunn said. “He was just a wonderful human being, a class act all the way. He was not only the classiest person I ever knew, with a wonderful heart, he taught me a lot about character.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon credits Briegel with him attending college in the first place.
“He’s the sole reason I came to SMC,” Jerdon said. “He was always recruiting students ‘to get a credential’ even years after retiring. That’s what made him great — he truly wanted to know about you. He asked young people about their career plans and what they saw themselves doing in five years. He was always investigating and making suggestions about how to realize their dreams. He would greet you with a tremendous smile and a ‘How you doin’, partner?’ In a nutshell, he was always positive, even in hardship.”
Trustee Dr. Elaine Foster, who served as nursing dean during 25 years at SMC, called it “a sad day. Dave Briegel was a wonderful man. He was not only a smart businessman, but a great person. Mr. Briegel was president when I started at SMC. I had only been out of college a few years, but he gave me a chance and hired me into a fulltime position after I taught adjunct one year. He always had a way of making a person feel special and will be sadly missed.”
“He was a true and faithful supporter of SMC,” Trustee Becky Moore said.
“Mr. Briegel was president when I came to SMC 37 years ago,” recalled Dr. Mary Young-Marcks, political science professor.
“When he retired, he said to us, ‘You can call me Dave now.’ But I never could. He was Mr. Briegel. It was once said there were a handful of people who would always ‘bleed green and gold,’ and he was top of the list. He contributed in every way to the success of SMC. His big smile and handshake greeted you whenever he saw you. He continued to be part of the SMC community in retirement by his presence and contributions to many areas. He will be very missed, and I know he must have been thrilled at the idea of cross country coming back,” said Young-Marcks.
Those interested in sharing quotes, memories or quips from President Briegel’s tenure are invited to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org so they can be compiled and shared with his family.