Like so many college students, however, Rick Amidon had second thoughts and shifted gears, seeing his future as a professor of literature. He changed his career path again a few years later as he completed his graduate work at Michigan State University.
While teaching a couple of English classes at Baker College, he was struck by how the school’s role meshed with his own ideals. A good number of Baker students were first-generation college students looking to make something better of themselves.
“That just struck a chord with me,” said Amidon, who set aside his idea of moving on to work on his doctorate and joined Baker in 1984 as dean of the college’s new Owosso campus.
He later became campus president in his native Owosso and came to West Michigan in 1995 when he was named president of Baker College of Muskegon and Fremont, a campus that has seen its enrollment grow nearly 60 percent in the past decade.
“I loved the mission, and I discovered Baker is where I wanted to spend my career — and I never left,” Amidon said.
Baker College, with 12 campuses in Michigan, offers associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees in business, technology and health and human service careers. The private college is geared toward career development in a student’s chosen field, minus the liberal arts classes required at some universities.
During his tenure, Baker College’s Muskegon campus has grown steadily. Baker’s Muskegon enrollment grew 9.6 percent alone in the winter semester this year compared to the same semester a year earlier, to about 2,700 students
In 1997, the college relocated from downtown to Quarterline Road, to a facility that once housed a former state hospital. Baker bought the facility and its surrounding 45 acres the previous year from the state for $1 and has since invested $13 million on renovations and new construction.
Amidon sees the growth continuing in the years ahead. With a goal of reaching an enrollment of 5,000 by 2010, he anticipates the college will always have an ongoing construction project in the $500,000 to $1 million range.
The campus is presently nearing completion of a $400,000 kitchen for its culinary arts program and work continues on a new lab for its veterinary assistant courses, part of a $500,000 pod of new classrooms and science labs. Ahead is a $750,000 project to build new classrooms.
In managing the growth, as well as overseeing an organization with a workforce of 275, Amidon follows a style predicated on service and his faith as a Christian. He says the book that’s had the most influence on him personally is “Following Christ,” by Joe Stowell of the Moody Bible Institute. The book, he said, laid the foundation of how he acts as a leader and servant and how he treats others.
“It’s affected my leadership style at Baker, my leadership style at home with my family, and everything in between,” said Amidon, who still holds a passion for literature that he learned at an early age. Amidon counts William Faulkner as his favorite fiction author and recently became an author himself.
Halcyon Press last year published “Jesus Trucking Co.,” a parable about a “regular guy” who suddenly loses his job and finds himself destitute. The character decides to start driving a semi truck and crosses the country witnessing to people about what’s important in life.
Amidon wrote the book because he wanted to illustrate how a person uses his faith to deal with severe adversity in their life, he said. Royalties from the book are donated to missions.
The personal value of service to others drives Amidon to offer his time to numerous organizations around Muskegon, including Goodwill Industries of West Michigan and Mercy General Health Partners.
Amidon also strongly encourages Baker employees to become involved in the community through human service agencies, organizations and events. He proudly points to a lengthy list of some 50 Muskegon area groups in which Baker College employees are involved in one form or another.
As a career college, Baker itself is becoming increasingly involved in the Muskegon area. Most notable is the school’s involvement in the Muskegon Lakeshore SmartZone, a high-tech business park planned along the Muskegon Lake waterfront, and the Lakeshore Launch Pad business incubator.
That involvement, and the encouragement of others to become involved, stems from Amidon and Baker College’s mission to act as a servant to the community.
“We just feel that we want to be the givers, not the takers,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”