Photo by Josie Meridith

There is never a routine day for Otterbein University President John Comerford. Acting as university president means he is no stranger to dedicating some of his time to off-campus commitments. 

Students may not be aware that Comerford is on the frontlines of bringing in the resources to meet campus needs. To do so, he attends meetings with a wide variety of people, ranging from government officials to local alumni. 

“It’s finding that overlap that are the powerful things,” said Comerford. “The overlap between what Otterbein can do and what that employer needs, or an overlap in what Otterbein needs and what a donor is interested in doing. That’s where we can work together.” 

While Comerford is not always physically on campus, his time spent elsewhere is for bettering the university and the surrounding community, said Executive Assistant Becky Smith. 


“He is a community relationship builder,” Smith said. “He went to Washington, D.C. to meet with all our district congress people. That helps with our access and our affordability value here at Otterbein because he’s out there talking optimistically about higher education.” 

Denise Rehg, the Columbus Symphony's executive director, is one of Comerford's many connections that can open doors for students and is available to them because of the off campus work that he does. 

“I love what [he’s] doing here, intentionally reaching out to the underserved communities and making college basically free for those underserved communities,” Rehg said. 


Building those off-campus relationships is what leads to the on-campus opportunities. Smith said if it weren’t for his relationship-building abilities, students wouldn’t have the scholarships and facilities that make their Otterbein education possible. 

“Most students don’t think about how their scholarship got funded or how the science building or equine center got paid for,” said Comerford. “These are things students should not have to worry about. So, I don’t think most would understand the amount of work that goes into making that happen.” 

It is the small talk that makes a big difference, said Comerford. Most often his off-campus work begins with personal conversations, and the topic of business comes after.  

“Every business meeting starts with the get to know you stuff,” Comerford said. “We have a whole department of advancement that’s focused on off-campus relationships and fundraising. It’s a chunk of the job, certainly.” 

While it takes a village to run a university, Comerford is the face of Otterbein in more ways than students may realize, Smith said. He plays a significant part in campus-related decision making that goes far beyond the campus itself.  

“His focus is truly on the institution and the welfare of the students and faculty,” said Smith. “He’s the one that goes out and has those conversations to be able to build that bridge back here on campus with whomever he speaks with.”