January 25, 2023
After spending 16 years as a missionary in Africa, Ken Kemper started a new mission twenty years ago that brought him to Grand Rapids. On February 1, Kemper will celebrate his 20th anniversary as President of Grace Christian University which makes him the longest currently-serving college president in West Michigan; only two other colleges in all of Michigan have current presidents who have been at their colleges longer.
“My wife Kathy and I raised our kids in Africa, Tanzania was our home,” recalls Kemper, “we viewed mission work as our life’s calling. It was very fulfilling. My youngest daughter is still in Africa working as a missionary.”
Kemper was not new to Grace Christian University—both he and his wife graduated from the school, then known as Grace Bible College—and Kemper’s father, Bruce Kemper, was president of the university just prior to his son taking the helm. Ken Kemper was also a standout basketball player for the Grace Christian University Tigers as a student.
“Due to our mission work, we kept in touch with the college regularly. I knew my father was looking to step down so I had conversations with the school board to help advise them about potential candidates,” offers Kemper, “at one point—and to my surprise—I was told that I was on their ‘short list’ of candidates. It wasn’t something we were considering—I was a missionary, not an educator—we had stopped in Michigan for a short furlough and were planning to return to Africa. When the offer came, we prayerfully considered it and felt that the Lord was asking us to make Grace our next mission.”
Grace Bible College had 145 students on campus when Kemper became president. Under his tenure, the school has grown to more than 1000 students on campus and online, added several new degree programs, as well as, new and upgraded facilities. A master’s degree program was added. And the name changed to Grace Christian University five years ago.
“One of the things I’m proudest of is the dynamic and high-functioning Board of Directors here at Grace. We’ve built an active, vibrant culture. The Board knows and understands our mission to change the world through higher education,” stated Kemper.
Gretchen Johnson, Board Chairperson stated, “For twenty years Grace Christian University has been blessed with Ken Kemper’s consistent and courageous leadership. From his 16 years as a missionary in East Africa and his 20 years serving as President of Grace Christian University, Ken has taught, trained, and equipped courageous ambassadors for Christ. Because of Ken’s leadership and vision, our graduates are equipped to serve the needs of church and society.”
Inaugurated as Milwaukee Bible Institute in 1939, the school moved to Grand Rapids in the early ‘60s and became Grace Bible College. Associate and Bachelor’s degree programs include Criminal Justice, Business, and Human Services, along with its core line of Leadership & Ministry studies. The university also offers several Master’s degrees. Grace Christian fields numerous competitive sports teams, and boasts several national championships. The Grace Christian campus is located at 1011 Aldon St. SW in Wyoming, Michigan.
“We’re so thankful for the partnership President Kemper encourages with the City of Wyoming, its staff and residents,” said Wyoming mayor Kent Vanderwood, “the City wishes him a happy anniversary and looks forward to continuing our partnership for years to come.”
Kemper plans on continuing this mission for a while. “Our goal at Grace Christian,” he says, “is commitment to preparing the leaders of tomorrow to be courageous ambassadors for Christ…educationally, socially, physically, and spiritually in their life and work endeavors post-college. I’m excited to carry on this important work.”