The Rev. Dr. J.A.O. (Jacob Aall Ottesen) “Jack” Preus III, former president of Concordia University Irvine (CUI), Irvine, Calif., died in Apache Junction, Ariz., on Aug. 4. He was 69.
Preus was born in Luverne, Minn., on March 20, 1953, to the Rev. Dr. J.A.O. Preus II and Delpha Mae (Holleque) Preus. He married Sherry Lynn Bender on Dec. 21, 1974, in St. Louis.
Preus earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and American Studies (1975) from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. He later received Master of Divinity (1980), Master of Sacred Theology (1985) and Doctor of Theology (1986) degrees from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL). He was ordained at Timothy Lutheran Church, St. Louis, on May 25, 1980, and served as pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. (1980–1983), and Holy Sacraments Lutheran Church in St. Louis (1983–1986).
In 1986, Preus became professor of Systematic Theology at CSL. He served as the Systematic Theology department chairman from 1992 to 1994 and as CSL dean of faculty from 1994 to 1998. During this time, he was also a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserves and was assigned to the Third Battalion, 24th Regiment of the U.S. Marine Corps during the First Gulf War.
In 1998, Preus became the third president of CUI. He focused on growing the university’s undergraduate and graduate programs and increased student enrollment by nearly 150%. He established the School of Theology, School of Business and School of Adult Studies (later renamed the School of Professional Studies). Under his leadership, CUI initiated the President’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and the Faithfulness and Excellence program for faculty and staff. It also constructed Robert Alan Grimm Hall and the Chi Rho and Chi Sigma residence halls.
While at CUI, Preus worked to establish missionary and student exchange opportunities in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand; served as a consultant and a speaker on the intersection of contemporary culture and faith; and traveled and taught extensively in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia and the U.S.
Preus retired as CUI president in 2009 and went on to serve as executive vice-president for mission advancement at Bethesda Lutheran Communities (now AbleLight) until 2014. In a June 30, 2009, letter to the leadership of the Concordia University System, Preus called his time at CUI “an indescribable privilege” and “the best of all the years of my ministry.” Of the prospect of serving at Bethesda, he said he was looking forward to “applying what I have learned through 25 years of service in Lutheran higher education.” At Bethesda, Preus contributed to the expansion of Bethesda’s international collaboration and helped establish Bethesda College at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis.
From 2014 to 2019, Preus was the executive director for the Luther Institute in Southeast Asia, working in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia.
In a press release, CUI Vice-President and Chief Mission Officer Steve Mueller said Preus “led the campus with both faithfulness and excellence. As a professor and dean of the faculty at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he helped launch the Cross-cultural Ministry Center in partnership with Concordia University Irvine. As [CUI] president, he cultivated academic and spiritual strength that continues to this day.”
CSL President Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Egger called Preus “one of my favorite professors. … He placed great emphasis on the clarity, the richness and the certainty of the Gospel of Christ, and he taught his students to value this also.”
“It was my great joy to know Jack and spend considerable time with him,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “His kindness and support are unforgettable. As a young man, he had decided to go into forestry. The grave challenges in the Synod in the 1970s deeply affected his father and family, and he thought he would go in a different direction.
“But he discovered that he had a tremendous gift for languages, and that gift, along with his deep love for the clear and precious Gospel, caused him to choose to study for the ministry. That service was stellar. Though he struggled with ill health in recent years, he remained humble and faithful, had the heart of a servant, and retained his wry sense of humor.
“With Sherry and the Preus family, the whole church mourns his passing. We give thanks for his life among us, and we rejoice in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
Preus is survived by his wife, Sherry; children Dr. J.A.O. “Jack” (Anna) Preus IV, Emily (Steven) Donoso and Rebecca (Joseph) McAllister; and eight grandchildren, who were the delight of his life. His father, the Rev. Dr. J.A.O. Preus II, was the eighth president of the LCMS. His grandfather, J.A.O. Preus, served as Minnesota’s eighth state auditor and 20th governor.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Ariz. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to CUI, CSL or Christ’s Greenfield.
Posted Aug. 11, 2022