Dr. Norman A. Baxter, Fresno State’s fifth president, served the University during its name change from Fresno State College to California State University, Fresno when it joined the CSU system.
Dr. Baxter, who was president from 1970 to 1980, died on May 5 in Washington state. Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro ordered all University flags to be flown at half-staff on May 14.
Born in New York in 1926, Dr. Baxter earned two bachelor’s degrees — one from Taylor University in Indiana and the other from New York Theological Seminary. He received a doctorate from Harvard University in 1954. Dr. Baxter specialized in Greek and church history. He moved up through the ranks of administration at the New York Theological Seminary, then at Little Rock University in Arkansas before coming to Fresno State in 1969.
Dr. Baxter was academic vice president at Fresno State for one year before he became president, overlapping with a period of political and social unrest on campus.
One of his main goals as the University’s top leader was to build Fresno State into a major institution that the community could look up to and use as a community resource. “We want people in the community to think of this facility as a resource. We wanted our campus to be responsive to the needs of the community,” Dr. Baxter said in a story that appeared in The Fresno Bee in 1973.
He worked to raise money for the construction of Bulldog Stadium, which opened on Nov. 25, 1980, with the help of local philanthropists. The University was using Ratcliffe Stadium on the Fresno City College campus for football games at the time.
Dr. Baxter stepped down as president in 1980 and later retired to the Sierra Foothills with his wife, Wilda.