Haak Transforms Business Programs, Develops First JBU Master's Program in Business

By Julie Gumm ’95
6/28/2018 4:47:46 PM

It was August 1979 when Delia Haak and her husband Bill, age 22, arrived in Gentry, Arkansas with 54 heifer cows.

Land prices were cheap and it seemed like the perfect place to establish a dairy farm and build a future.

They bought 47 acres with a 1,000 square foot house surrounded by grass as high as Delia’s knees.

They fixed up the farmhouse and Haak spent six years raising their two sons, Luke and Jake, and supporting her husband as he built up the dairy.

Despite humble beginnings Delia soon became a major driving force behind JBU’s business department and the development of its first master’s program.

In 1985, with her boys in school, she accepted a position at JBU as the assistant to President John E. Brown III.

Haak also enrolled as a student to finish her business degree, taking classes before work and during her lunch hour.

Delia took a personal interest in the new Walton Scholars Program. 

“I got involved from a mom standpoint — thinking about how these students feel so far from home,” Haak said.

The Haak dairy farm soon became “home away from home” for many students, especially missionary kids and international students. Meals around the bonfire provided a community long before JBU had a formal international friendship program or MK Club.

“She was always cheerful, always hospitable and cared about everyone,” said Alice McQuay who worked alongside Delia in the development office. 

McQuay also describes Haak as “highly organized and totally intelligent,” — skills that undoubtedly helped her balance multiple responsibilities and complete her degree in 1990.

As she was finishing her coursework Dr. Doyle Butts, then chairman of the business division, asked Haak what she thought about teaching.

“She had such people skills,” Butts said. “She was passionate about helping others, which is a fundamental for being a good teacher.”

It wasn’t something Delia had considered, but there was an “aha” moment and she realized she would love it.

“Then he said ‘You just need to do one thing’ and I thought, ‘okay whatever!’” said Haak.

That one thing was getting her MBA.

“I looked at him and said ‘Do you know how hard it was for me to get my undergraduate degree?’” she said.

Haak’s heart sank as she wondered how she could possibly juggle an MBA program with work and her family. But when she went home and told her husband, Bill simply said, “You have to do that.”

So she did, while continuing to work full time for the JBU development office.

In the fall of 1991, while finishing her MBA, she transitioned to a part-time associate professor role teaching Introduction to Business and leading the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE – now Enactus) program.

Originally just a club, Haak helped develop SIFE into a three-credit hour program.

That year JBU’s SIFE team won Rookie of the Year at both the regional and international competitions.

Over the next six years, Haak guided the SIFE students to four regional championships and in 1996 was named a Sam Walton Free Enterprise Fellow.

Delia’s work with SIFE built the foundation for JBU’s strong Enactus program which placed second in the nation this spring.

“The first to bring true drive and vision to JBU SIFE was Delia. She laid the foundation for the successes that SIFE/Enactus have worked so hard to achieve to this day,” said Joe Walenciak, dean of the Soderquist College of Business. “Had it not been for her belief in our students and SIFE, I doubt we would have an Enactus team today.”

Gradually Haak’s teaching load expanded to include marketing classes, and she wanted to take some additional graduate classes.

When she told her husband, he said, “You might as well check into a doctoral program.”

“But I didn’t want to quit my job,” Haak said. “A lot of doctoral programs were full time programs. There was no way I was going to do that when I had the job I wanted.”

But the University of Arkansas’ program let her pursue a degree in higher education, take the marketing classes she wanted and continue working. So she enrolled in 1995.

Two years later the JBU Board of Trustees began discussing a graduate degree program.

“The university was saying ‘What can we do to develop ethical leaders in all fields —business, education, the church, medical, journalism?’,” said Haak.

President Lee Balzer approached Haak about developing a master of science in leadership and ethics (MSLE) as her doctoral dissertation.

“It was exciting to me to look at leadership as an academic field of study,” said Haak.

While working on her dissertation, Haak helped establish the Donald G. Soderquist Center for Business Leadership and Ethics at JBU, which opened in August 1998. Haak was named the executive director of the center, a part-time position that allowed her to continue teaching and developing the MSLE that enrolled its first students in the fall of 1999.

She successfully defended her dissertation that December and earned the prestigious Dissertation of the Year Award from the College of Education at U of A.

Rob Bethke ’99 and ’01 worked for Delia as a graduate assistant at the center and was a member of the first cohort of MSLE students.

“I learned much from Delia about servant leadership, integrity and meaningful academic discipline,” Bethke said.

In 2000 the university hired a full time director for the center and Delia returned her attention to her first love — the classroom.

“There were students that I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be part of their lives,” Haak said.

One such student was Mandy (Campbell) Moore ’04, a member of the first team of JBU students to ever compete in the Governor’s Cup Business Plan Competition.

The team, who did all of the work outside of their normal classes, placed fourth in the competition under Haak’s guidance.

Within a couple of years, participating in the Governor’s Cup became part of the curriculum, and today JBU teams consistently place in the top three and have won over half a million dollars in prize money.

“Dr. Haak is the reason I became a professor,” said Moore. “It was powerful to have a female role model in the business division.”

In 2001, the students chose Delia to receive the Faculty of the Year Award.

“She was the biggest reason that JBU was such a transformational place for me,” said Moore. “My confidence blossomed under her leadership, rigor and care.”

In 2002, Delia was appointed as the coordinator of JBU’s graduate business program and remained in that position until she retired in 2006. Even in retirement Haak continues to adjunct teach.

But after a year, Delia re-entered the full time work force.

“I thought my children and grandchildren would need me more,” she joked.

In 2007, Haak was appointed the executive director of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, an organization dedicated to improving and protecting the water quality in the Illinois River.

Her work earned the recognition of President Barack Obama who appointed Haak as the United States Commissioner of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission in 2015.

She shows no signs of retiring (again) soon.

The Haaks still host gatherings around the bonfire out at the Haak Dairy – sometimes Delia’s students, often their seven grandchildren or her nephews’ families, and no matter what is it, you will find Delia in the center of it all, doing what she does best — connecting and encouraging.

“Delia Haak is a woman of great integrity. When she speaks, people listen. People continue to seek her out because of her leadership and character,” said Moore.  n

Share via

Share Icon:Share on FacebookShare Icon:Email this PageShare Icon:Share on Twitter