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A Legacy of Faith: Ron Kopicko

Ron Kopicko leads a Bible study

By Brian Kono, Ph.D., Chaplain

“God’s method is people, and He meets them at the place of their purpose!” This statement is not only the refrain Reverend Ron Kopicko ‘77 shared in many of his messages — it was the chorus of his life and legacy while he served for over 38 years at SAU.

After graduating from Spring Arbor College with a degree in elementary education, and while working at a local school, Kopicko heard a message by Hudson Taylor’s grandson with the theme of being sent. In Ron’s words, “I never recovered.” In the summer of 1980, he came to Uncle Dunk (Verdon Dunckel HS ’10), Spring Arbor College Chaplain, and Pastor John Hendricks, and the school and Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church worked out a joint agreement to fund a position titled “Director of Student Discipleship Coordinator.”

Through the years, Kopicko’s position adapted with the changes in Christian education, the ebb and flow of the Jackson community and the college’s leadership as it transitioned into a university. He added to his title “Ministries Director” and then transitioned to the role of Assistant Dean of Students and Residence Life before finally settling into the role of full-time Chaplain in 1993. From training and leading resident directors and creating the professor assistant position with Dr. Kim (Austin ‘90) Hayworth to leading spring break mission trips (he led over 22 of them), his influence shaped the programmatic life of staff and students throughout his tenure. His vision for Chapel is a distinguishing mark in his legacy of Spring Arbor’s spiritual life. With student-led worship and messages delivered with Jesus as the perspective for life, Kopicko’s goal was that every student would leave with the attitude, “I’m glad I didn’t miss that Chapel.”

There is no way to measure the impact Ron has had in shaping the community life of Spring Arbor. One of his favorite life axioms was shared by Howard Hendricks; “You can impress people from a distance, but you can only impact them up close.” Ron took this to heart through a ministry of mentoring young men and women. For nearly four decades Ron has met with students individually and has seen the circle close as he was privileged to meet with children of his former mentees. In his half-hour sessions, he shared Godly wisdom from Scripture with keen insight that left students feeling like he could read their minds, and their hearts.

His own teaching ministry was spread across the whole of Spring Arbor’s community as he trained student leaders, led devotions for board meetings and faculty and staff gatherings, preached messages on campus and in camps across the country, challenged students at the Montana Young Leaders Institute for Student Athletes, shared “Cookies, Questions and Kopicko” nights on residence hall floors and taught Sunday school at his church. But nothing captures the love Ron has for the Scripture like his creation of the Wednesday night gathering called DEEPER (“By the Book” in the ‘80s and ‘90s). With Bible in hand, and copious amounts of Scripture memorized, he challenged students toward deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and one another, helping them realize their worth and purpose in living life by the book.

In honor of this legacy, and to reinforce Jesus as the perspective for learning and life, SAU has created a “Freshmen Class Bible Project.” This fund will be the resource for purchasing a study Bible for all future incoming traditional campus freshmen. Along with the affirmation of the university’s Concept, this gift will contribute to the ongoing campus discipleship effort, paying forward the study of the Word modeled by Chaplain Ron.

During Homecoming this fall, SAU invites alumni and community members to join us for a thank you celebration. The event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3 p.m. in the Cougar Den, located on the lower level of the Student Life Center. Please put this on your calendar and plan to come share Ron’s impact on your life. If your life has been impacted by Ron, make a gift in honor of Ron’s retirement.