PUC Presidents


1882 - 1886


The first of the eight presidents on the Healdsburg campus of what came to be known as Pacific Union College was Sidney Brownsburger, a graduate of the University of Michigan. He saw the conventional college as the pattern for Seventh-day Adventist schools, but he also strongly encouraged industrial education; accordingly, two and a half hours of manual labor were required of all students daily. Classes in shoemaking, tentmaking, and blacksmithing, as well as gardening and care of cows and horses were offered. Domestic service was performed mostly by girls in the kitchen, laundry and dining room.








1886 - 1894


William C. Grainger, a tall, dark, Lincolnesque man in appearance, had come to California from Missouri. At a camp meeting in Yountville, Ellen G. White had told him, “A school is soon to be opened in Healdsburg, and both you and your wife are needed there as teachers.” The Graingers accepted her advice, and in 1886, when President Brownsberger resigned, Grainger was selected to the second president of the 13-teacher, 223-student Healdsburg College.

During the twelve-year Grainger administration, the college was noted for its close relationship between students and teachers, a warm constituency cooperation with the school, and consequently a high esprit de corps. Though sometimes plagued by financial woes, under Grainger’s guidance the college initiated a pattern of educational excellence by a strong faculty that has long been a Pacific Union College hallmark. Himself possessed of considerable intellect, Grainger’s powers of concentration were legendary. The attribute quickly won for him the appreciation of students, faculty and constituents.

In 1894, President Grainger, whose eyes had always been on service in lands afar, resigned his Healdsburg College presidency, and shortly thereafter began pioneering the giving of the Christian gospel in the country of Japan.







Frank HOWE

1894 - 1897


Frank Howe, a graduate of the University of Michigan, came to Healdsburg College, with two other teachers sent to the west by church leaders to bring the school more in harmony with denominational thinking. The three were called, unkindly, the “Three Wise Men of the East.” Upon President Grainger’s resignation, Howe was selected to become the college’s third president.

A nation-wide financial panic in 1893 that had spread to the west in 1894, made Howe’s presidency an especially trying one. Enrollment at Healdsburg dropped in 1894 from an earlier high 223 to 130, and the fad of buying bicycles seemed to take priority over educational tuition. Howe met the challenge by slashing tuition and board to $13 per month if paid in advance for the whole year.

Trying to carry out instructions from church headquarters, Howe instituted a vegetarian diet for the school, and set up appointment-scheduling and bell ringing for access to the college president. The moves did not set well with the school family and especially not with the citizens of Healdsburg.

President Howe worked hard in difficult circumstances. By 1897 when the faculty scattered after the school year ended, Howe, feeling he had been unjustly treated, resigned and left the west.








1897 - 1899


Roderick Sterling Owen came to the presidency of Healdsburg College in 1897 from a background that included the study of law, ship missionary work in San Francisco harbor, and service as a highly respected Bible teacher at the college. An administrator he was not: “I am a homemade affair.” he had said, but the College Board tapped him to be the school’s leader and he pledged to do his best. During President Owen’s tenure the faculty of the college was built up again from the somewhat dispirited group it had become during Frank Howe’s presidency. Vocational education was again emphasized with a broom factory added to the school’s prospering tent factory. The president taught night classes to ministerial students and they preached in neighboring towns; the girls met on Wednesday nights for classes in giving Bible studies. Finances were continually troublesome during Owen’s brief, two-year leadership. In 1899 the humble and beloved Roderick Owen bade farewell to Healdsburg College. Afterward he served, first as a church pastor, and then as a respected teacher at the College of Medical Evangelists, today known as Loma Linda University.








1899 - 1903


The arrival of Marion E. Cady as Healdsburg College’s fifth president in 1899 brought a revival and what may be said to have been the second “great” period of the school. Enrollment reached a record 298 students in 1902; faculty numbers reached sixteen “collegiate” faculty and twelve in the school’s industries, plus one in the normal department. Though he had come from the “east,” Professor Cady got on well with Healdburg’s Board, the faculty, students and the school’s constituents; and he was personally supported by pioneer church leader Ellen G. White. Likeable, eloquent, aggressive, full of ideas, he had life-long enthusiasm for the educational work. A summer school began during Cady’s administration; the quarter system of education was initiated; courses were organized into departments; industrial training was increased; and an off-campus school - Timberland Academy - began. Except for continuing financial shortfalls, the college flourished. In July of 1903, President Cady received and accepted a call to serve at the General Conference headquarters of the church, thus ending his successful four-year Healdsburg College presidency.








1903 - 1904


First elected as a vice president of Healdsburg College, Elton D. Sharpe was asked in 1903 to assume the presidency when President Marion Cady was called to serve at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. President Sharpe served for one year, from 1903 to 1904. During the Sharpe administration, the college’s industrial program was badly mangled when a number of these enterprises were closed by the Board. At the same time the California Conference of the church began diverting part of the proceeds from the sale of Ellen White’s book Christ’s Object Lessons to Adventist elementary schools - proceeds that had earlier been assigned exclusively by Mrs. White to the support of Healdsburg College. Though President Sharpe’s tenure at Healdsburg was short, his service was marked by helpful attention to the college’s most urgent needs most of them financial. Upon his departure, he was named educational secretary of the California Conference, and in 1906 her returned to Healdsburg to serve as a teacher of science and New Testamant Greek. By that time the school had taken the name “Pacific Union College.”








1904 - 1906


Warren E. Howell was a very tall, slender man, said to be a remarkable combination of scholarship and dignity. He came to the presidency of Healdsburg College in 1904 from Emmanuel Missionary College in Battle Creek, Michigan. His most challenging task was attempting to halt the financial decline at the school. President Howell cut the time of classes from 55 to 35 minutes. That allowed each of a smaller group of retained teachers to teach more classes. He and his wife worked themselves to exhaustion, he serving as business manager and dean of men in addition to his administrative leadership duties. He and Mrs. Howell also personally supervised all student study periods. In spite of his numerous efforts toward cutting costs, financial debt mounted and enrollment declined. In 1906, President Howell learned of his dismissal from the college presidency while he was in a hotel in San Francisco, which crumbled around him in the great earthquake that struck the city that year. Shortly after his departure from Healdsburg, he was named the first president of the Loma Linda College of Evangelists.








1906 - 1908


In 1906, Lucas A. Reed, a midwestern dentist who had been serving as dean of men at Healdsburg College, assumed the presidency of the school. Financial woes continued to plague the institution, and that meant each teacher had to carry a heavier load of teaching and other duties. President Reed himself taught eight classes in history, Bible, science and art, the last in his home in the evenings! The school year 1906-07, saw a reversal of earlier financial misfortune, with donations exceeding operating losses; however, the following year saw a return of the financial downturn of earlier years. The year 1906, brought a change of the college’s name to Pacific Union College. In 1907, in a search for financial stability, some of the college buildings were sold, a number of them having housed failed college industries. A decision was taken in 1908, to relocate the college “in the country” for a worker’s training school. The last college activity of that school year was a teacher’s institute. Then Pacific Union College-at-Healdsburg closed its doors forever, and with its closing came the end of Lucas Reed’s service as college president. .








1909 - 1921


The Pacific Union College presidency of Charles Walter Irwin began in 1909 and continued until 1921; he was named President having just returned to the United States from service in Australia as principal of the school that became Avondale College. Under his presidency, President Irwin said at the dedication of “Pacific College” as it was called in its first year, the school would provide for “the education of the whole man.” He brought together a faculty of “giants in the land” each of whom were fully dedicated to that goal. A bronze plaque that still graces the Pacific Union College campus, declares of President Irwin that “With faith in his heart and a pickax in his hand, he carved a college out of a hillside.” While it is true that he literally moved mountains to accommodate new college buildings, it must also be said that under his presidency there was trained a small army of well-prepared young people who fearlessly carried the Christian gospel to the far corners of the earth. President Irwin’s twelve years of leadership on Howell Mountain constituted an era of pioneering in which standards of Christian higher education were set in place that would endure through all succeeding administrations of the school.








1921 - 1934


William Edward Nelson came to the presidency of Pacific Union College in 1921 as an experienced and successful educational administrator. He had done graduate work at the University of Nebraska, been a department head at Walla Walla College, and had served for six years as president of Southwestern Junior College in Texas. Like President Irwin before him, President Nelson surrounded himself with a strong and dedicated faculty. He was also successful at persuading students to reach high standards, and he quickly gained the support of church and Conference leaders. Under President Nelson’s leadership, the college gained educational accreditation, the first Seventh-day Adventist college to be accorded such standing. Serving as both president and business manager of the college, he was probably most famous in the field of institutional finance. The standing of the college was enhanced by his ability to save money for future needs, and the material growth of the campus testified to his tireless application to the art of getting the most for the school’s money. President Nelson’s tenure at Pacific Union College ended in 1934, with his election to be the world director of Seventh-day Adventist education.








1934 - 1943


Walter I. Smith in 1934 become the president of Pacific Union College on the day he passed examinations for the degree of doctor of education. He had been serving as the world director of education of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. President Smith has been described as “a brilliant and highly regarded scholar, a considerate and pleasant man, whose great desire was to see P.U.C. continue its quiet progress.” On one of his several visits to Howell Mountain before becoming president, he remarked that he felt P.U.C. approached the model of a school of the prophets more than some he had seen. Growth and advancement characterized President Smith’s tenure: In 1934, an Advanced Bible School on campus was so successful it later became the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary; an attempt was made to start a graduate education program on campus; buildings were added until the college took on the appearance of a modern educational campus. Under President Smith’s leadership, Pacific Union College moved from a school of educational pioneers and innovators, to a solidly-grounded, accredited educational institution, fully capable of fulfilling its God-given mission: training the whole man - body, mind, and spirit.








1943 - 1945


Though his presidency of Pacific Union College, from 1943 to 1945, was short in terms of years, Henry J. Klooster, formerly president of Emmanuel Missionary College, played a dynamic leadership role in advancing “Our College on the Mountain.” President Klooster strongly urged the enlargement of the advanced study programs for teachers in order to build up a corps of instructors with doctoral degrees. He also planned for the accreditation of the college with the state as a means of strengthening the teacher training program. The needs of Hawaiian students for college training in their own islands led to formulation of plans for the affiliation of P.U.C. with Hawaiian Mission Academy. Plans were also initiated for the construction of a new library and an elementary school as the first step in a general construction of the campus. Renowned for the excellence and the frequency of his chapel addresses, President Klooster was a leader of great ability who left a deep imprint on the college. Great sadness prevailed when in 1945 he suddenly resigned his presidency.








1945 - 1950


Upon the departure from campus of President Henry Klooster in 1945, the Pacific Union College Board of Trustees turned to the college’s academic dean, Percy W. Christian, to serve as the fifth PUC president on the Angwin campus. A friendly man of genuine sociability and much persuasive ability and with a nice sense of academic balance, Dr. Christian continued the changes in social practices that had already begun, though not without some lively contests in faculty meetings between those who felt shifts in interpretation were desirable and overdue, and those who felt change was a betrayal of school standards. President Christian’s administration had to contend with the largest enrollments that would be seen on Howell Mountain until the 1960s, and the consequent expansion of the faculty and the building program. He successfully met each of the many challenges that came at a time of accelerated growth of PUC. Having written a brief but notable record of success in leading Pacific Union College forward, Dr. Christian in 1950 accepted an invitation to become president of Emmanuel Missionary College.








1950 - 1954


Dr. John E. Weaver, who had been serving as the world director of Seventh-day Adventist education, was invited in 1950 to become the 14th president of Pacific Union College. Described as “a pleasant Christian gentlemen,” Dr. Weaver, like a number of his predecessors at PUC, he had also been a president of Walla Walla College before his leadership of the world-wide system of Adventist schools and colleges. It fell to President Weaver’s lot to wrestle with readjustments that were made necessary due to a decreasing number of students who had served their country in World War II, and the arrival on campus of the so-called “war babies.” Dr. Weaver also had to contend with a growing feeling among some faculty members that Pacific Union College should be an “elite” educational institution, restricting admissions to only those of highest intellectual potential. At a time of decreasing enrollment, such aspirations could not help but fall on deaf ears. Having given of his best in leadership of PUC, Dr. Weaver in 1954 took leave of Howell Mountain to serve as head of the department of education at Washington Missionary College.








1954 - 1955


Henry L. Sonnerberg, the fifth Pacific Union College president to have Walla Walla College connections, began his leadership of the college in July of 1954, but was tragically taken by death in 1955. In the few short months of his leadership he vigorously moved the college forward in a number of important ways. Upon arrival in Angwin, President Sonnenberg found that intensive study by the college faculty had resulted in the development of an unprecedented and interesting realignment of courses of study. He promptly activated the suggested new curriculum which was designed to appeal to a great variety of student interests and needs. Of it he said, "Many young people, whose course or occupational interests and aptitudes can not be accommodated by the conventional and traditional offerings, will now find, much to their satisfaction, a place at P.U.C. especially prepared for them." Student enrollment rose to 760 during his brief administration. Dr. Sonnenberg's emphasis on P.U.C.'s graduate studies program, and his strengthening of the school's agricultural offerings were accomplished facts before a heart attack during his sleeping hours on September 1, 1955, claimed his life.








1955 - 1963


Dr. Ray W. Fowler, who was elected president of Pacific Union College in 1955, brought to his responsibility an approachable personality, good humor, and a willingness to give a hearing to both student and faculty viewpoints. President Fowler's PUC leadership years were marked by significant advances, not the least of which was growth in student enrollment. For the first time, in the late 1950s, enrollment topped 1,000 students and continued adding about 100 to that total for several years thereafter. By 1960, as word of P.U.C.'s excellent education program spread, students came to Howell Mountain from 21 different countries in addition to the United States.. During President Fowler's tenure, the college celebrated 50 years of education on the Angwin campus. A new library, whose name honored former President William E. Nelson, was opened to student use. Research grew on the campus, highlighted by the installation of a Nuclear Science Laboratory and other science facilities made possible by National Institutes of Science and other grants. Pacific Union College prospered under President Fowler's leadership, and it was with some regret that both faculty and students in 1963 saw him accept leadership responsibilities at his alma mater, Union College.








1963 - 1972


Floyd O. Rittenhouse, a historian and tireless story-teller, came to the presidency of Pacific Union College in 1963 from the leadership of Andrews University in Michigan. He arrived on campus to find a difficult situation, due in part to a failure of communication between some of the faculty, the board, and the outgoing administration. Taking charge with vigor, Rittenhouse applied himself to the advancement of the interests of the College on and off campus in his own articulate and very personal style. President Rittenhouse's leadership years at P.U.C. can truly be characterized as "the building years," a time in which no less than seven major campus buildings were constructed and numerous other improvements were made. He greatly improved the College's relationship with the surrounding community though making himself available for speaking appointments throughout Napa County. Possessed of a dry wit that quickly won friends, and an enthusiastic vision of a healthy educational future for P.U.C., Rittenhouse may well have been the most active and productive of all the 16 presidents of the College that had preceded him.








1972 - 1983


John W. Cassell, who had been serving as academic dean of Pacific Union College when he was selected as president in 1972, saw the College's highest enrollment ever - 2,300 in the 1975-76 year - during his administration. When Dr. Cassell's presidency ended, enrollment was nearing the bottom of a free-fall - at 1,443 in the 1983-84 year. In the midst of his 11-year leadership, President Cassell brought to campus the widely-known Seventh-day Adventist theologian Desmond Ford. As the result of some of Ford's public statements, first the campus, and then the constituency was thrown into turmoil. Historian Walter Utt was led to write in his history of the College that PUC's centennial year (1982) was "perhaps the most difficult the school has had to face since the closure of Healdsburg." The theological turmoil spread to a decrease in constituency confidence in the College, and that led to a rapid decline in enrollment. It quickly erased from memory many of the positive accomplishments of President Cassell in the earlier years of his administration, and led to his resignation in 1983.








1983 - 2001


D. Malcolm Maxwell came to the presidency of Pacific Union College in 1983 from Walla Walla College where he had been that institution's vice president for academic administration. The first P.U.C. alumnus to serve as the school's president, Maxwell, once on campus, quickly addressed, and in three or four years completely erased, a crisis of confidence in the institution that many had felt was almost certain to go into sharp decline. He became a great communicator, listening carefully to all, and recognizing the vital importance of timing and images. He had the knack of inspiring action while not provoking die-hard critics, implacably irritated by his successful leadership. He erased the College's can't-do image by seeing to the construction of campus buildings that housed the chemistry, science and biology departments. As a trained theologian, he recast the religion department so that it was more closely aligned with mainstream Seventh-day Adventism. At the close of his highly successful, eighteen-year presidency, Malcolm Maxwell was honored as had been no other of the school's leaders: the College Board named him President Emeritus of Pacific Union College








2001 - 2009


When he was selected as the 20th President of Pacific Union College in 2001, Richard C. Osborn was serving as Vice President for Education for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. A major challenge for President Osborn upon arrival at PUC were the nationwide trends among private and faith-based colleges of a widening gap between income and expenses created in part by dwindling enrollments. During this period, the church's demographics were rapidly changing with a private college's tuition increasingly out of reach for many students without taking out large student loans. PUC's enrollment during this period experienced overall declines contributing to major financial challenge in addition to major losses being experienced by the college's businesses. Toward resolution of that challenge, the Board led unsuccessful efforts to bring stability by creating an endowment from the sale of a portion of the school's lands which were considered non-essential for meeting its educational mission. President Osborn also focused attention on student retention efforts through creation of a Teaching and Learning Center. He hired outstanding educational administrators including the second female Vice President for Academic Administration and the first two Asian Vice Presidents with one focused on Enrollment Services and another on Advancement. Four of the five Vice Presidents were female. He stressed the importance of Ellen White's admonition to be "thinkers rather than mere reflectors of other men's thoughts" through such activities as the open discussion of contemporary issues within the church and support for the path breaking play, "Red Books," a documentary theater production written and produced by PUC graduates and students about one of the college's founders. During his eight years, PUC maintained its continuing ranking in the top tier of U.S. News and World Report and continued to send more students to Loma Linda University for medical and dental school than any other college. He also focused on involvement in outside organizations serving as President of the Council for American Private Education and Chair of the Association of Independent California Colleges & Universities. Given the unrelenting financial challenges facing the college, he brought in an outside consultant which led to establishment of an on-campus independent commission to review the financial operations of the college and to make recommendations Upon receiving the report, the Board felt new leadership was needed and Osborn graciously resigned in 2009. In part as a result of actions taken during his final months, the next year produced one of the highest enrollment increases in the history of PUC. Based on his volunteer work with the Western Association of Schools and College, after nearly forty years of church service he became a Vice President at WASC working with a large accreditation portfolio of senior colleges/universities. He is proud of the graduation of his daughter, Heather Ng, from PUC in 2001 who went on to become a prize-winning newspaper reporter in the Napa Valley before attending law school and passing the state bar.​








2009 - 2017


Dr. Heather J. Knight is the 21st president of Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, where she has brought great passion, energy, and insight to her role as CEO of this distinctive Seventh-day Adventist college in the liberal arts tradition. Committed to ongoing research of educational and leadership theories and approaches, Knight has personally embraced platforms or ideas that can propel Pacific Union College to the next level of excellence. One is the "Adventist Advantage" platform that she has developed, outlining seven key assets that give Adventist higher education its exceptional value and significance. Prior to arriving at PUC, Dr. Knight served for three years as provost of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. In that position, Dr. Knight was second officer of the university, functioning as chief operating officer, as well as chief academic officer managing the day-to-day operations of the university and providing academic and administrative leadership for Andrews University’s educational program development, curriculum planning, academic and research planning, strategic planning, financial goals and resources, enrollment and financial aid, information technology, library resources, as well as the fulfillment of the institution’s shared spiritual and community values. Furthermore, as provost, Dr. Knight was responsible for over 150 academic programs, 227 full-time faculty, 3,400 students studying on the Berrien Springs campus, as well as another 4,000 students studying in Affiliation and Extension programs around the world, and a $75 million budget. Her accomplishments at Andrews University include integrating the planning and budget development processes and bringing financial stability to Andrews, spearheading a new Strategic Plan that included new mission and vision statements, increasing enrollment, and implementing a new compensation plan for faculty and staff, as well as overseeing new construction and several facilities improvements on campus. For 18 years before serving at Andrews University, Dr. Knight served with distinction at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where she was a professor of English, assistant provost, and then associate provost, and where she provided oversight of the campus’s faculty development, diversity, general education, program review and assessment, international programs and services, service learning and community relations areas as she worked to foster and establish institutional best practices that promoted inclusive excellence and a culture of high achievement for all students. Dr. Knight received her bachelor’s degree in English from Oakwood University, magna cum laude (1982), her master's degree in English from Loma Linda University (1984) and her Ph.D. degree in English from Stanford University (1991), specializing in Twentieth-Century American Literature. She has also completed post-graduate studies at Harvard University in the area of Management and Leadership in Education (2002). Additionally, Dr. Knight has served on numerous committees and boards, made multiple national higher education presentations, has been published in academic and popular venues, served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, and been the recipient of many awards, including the San Joaquin Commission on the Status of Women "Woman of Achievement" Award. A pioneer, she is the first woman to serve as president of Pacific Union College and the first African-American woman to serve as president of an Adventist college or university in North America. A lover of the arts and mother of college-educated children, Dr. Knight is also a pastor’s wife, married to Dr. Norman Knight, an ordained minister who serves as outreach chaplain for Pacific Union College, as well as an adjunct professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University. The Knights both share a passion for ministry and higher education.






2017 - 2021



2021 - present