Lee Caldwell

ST. GEORGE — Students, faculty, staff and members of the community gathered Wednesday to bid a tearful goodbye to former Dixie State College president Lee Caldwell and his wife, Bonnie.

"He's a really good guy, a really good businessman. He was always getting things done," said Kaden Feller, 22, a Dixie sophomore who is graduating next month with a degree in accounting. "It really surprised me to hear that he was being replaced."

Feller, who also is serving as the academic student vice president this year, was among nearly 300 people gathered at the Gardner Center on Dixie's campus to tell the Caldwell's farewell and shower the couple with accolades and gifts.

Dixie Board of Trustees chairman Shandon Gubler told those gathered to honor the Caldwells that the college was stronger because of their service.

"You don't just have red sand in your shoes, it is in your souls," Gubler said to the Caldwells, who were sitting in the audience. "You embody the Dixie Spirit."

Caldwell resigned under pressure by the state Board of Regents last week from a post he has held for nearly three years. Caldwell has been at the forefront of a move to meld Dixie State College with the University of Utah. That effort will continue to move forward, said Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.

"I give the regents the benefit of the doubt when they say they are supportive of that effort," Urquhart said. "The regents can be very helpful and I intend to make sure that we put together a package they won't be able to resist."

Lee Caldwell addressed the crowd, saying he and his wife have "spent a lot of time in tears over the past week."

"Not because of what has happened to us, but because of this great community," he said to a standing ovation. Caldwell said he felt a "sacred trust" in his former role.

"It's that sacred trust that motivates me as we go forward," he added. "I have come to believe that the red sands of Dixie are the firmest foundation anybody could build their future on. I hope that sacred trust never wanes. I hope we never lose sight of the beneficiaries of that trust, the students and community that this institution serves."

Interim president Stephen Nadauld has already held meetings with Dixie students and employees. A formal open house for Nadauld is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Gardner Center.

E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com