With Growth at the Forefront of His Mission, Mr. John Huelskamp Steps Into the Role of La Salle President


Megan Snyder

“One of the things I love about education is it’s about improving the lives of others,” new president Mr. John Huelskamp said. “I’m in a very different role than I have been for the last 23 years, but that part of the job hasn’t changed.”

Josephine Robinson and Megan Snyder

“Let us remember…”

Mounted above the office door of La Salle’s new president, Mr. John Huelskamp, this widely known saying among Lasallian students serves as a daily reminder of his faith and vision for the La Salle community.

Since starting this position in July, Mr. Huelskamp has busied himself with getting a comprehensive view of La Salle.

As president, Mr. Huelskamp is in charge of the big picture aspects rather than everyday life at La Salle, overseeing all of the school’s business operations and admissions to make sure that everything in the La Salle community is running effectively. 

“My job as president is to support the efforts of the school to make sure that we are living and staying true to the mission and to look forward to the future,” Mr. Huelskamp said. 

So far, living up to this description has looked like “[drinking] a lot of coffee, and [having] a lot of meetings,” for Mr. Huelskamp. In the first two months after taking the position, he met with “over 100 people” in the La Salle community to hear what they love most about La Salle and to “identify opportunities to help us grow,” he said. 

From these meetings, Mr. Huelskamp saw that one aspect in particular stands out to people at La Salle: the school’s genuine sense of community. 

“I was dumbfounded how, early on, I would be out front greeting students and they would shake my hand,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “There was just a level of trust and welcome that is contagious.”

Another benefit of these meetings has been the formulation of a purpose statement for La Salle. 

In each of the meetings Mr. Huelskamp asked, “what is our purpose?” Then he tasked the leadership team at La Salle to take those answers and boil them down into a statement that would provide direction for the school moving forward. 

The final purpose statement, according to Mr. Huelskamp, is “to foster faith-filled creative and critical thinking.”

Considering the big picture, Mr. Huelskamp wants to help the La Salle community implement the purpose statement into the workings of the entire school. “The articulation of that purpose statement is a step towards that goal of giving people more clarity around who we are and why we do what we do,” he said. 

In addition to adhering to the purpose statement, Mr. Huelskamp also envisions guiding the school community to live out the five Lasallian core values. “If I can help our community more fully embrace and model those day in and day out, that is an absolute goal,” he said. 

Another one of Mr. Huelskamp’s primary goals for La Salle is to bring La Salle’s enrollment back up, meaning he will focus on both admissions and retention. 

“I want students to leave La Salle feeling like they had the absolute best possible education and experience of high school,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “With all doors open to them with regard to opportunity, but having built such close bonds and friendships that they can’t wait to come back for the next reunion.”

To grow the admission rate, Mr. Huelskamp hopes to provide more opportunities for the larger community to hear about La Salle. “I think we are too well kept of a secret,” he said. 

What Mr. Huelskamp wants all the students to know is that he has “the students at heart in what I am doing and why I am doing it,” he said. 

The biggest challenge that he has faced so far is adjusting to a different school structure and learning the intricacies of what goes on behind the scenes at La Salle. “It’s kind of like when you start a new board game that you’ve never played before,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “You’ve got to learn the rules of the game before you can fully get into it.”

However, Mr. Huelskamp feels prepared for this challenge and views this position as an opportunity to bring his unique ideas and experiences to the table. 

“I believe I bring a strong work ethic,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “I think I bring a level of wisdom that comes from experience, and I believe I bring an appreciation for my Catholic faith that can help our school grow in its faith.” 

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, as one of eight children, Mr. Huelskamp got the experience of private and public high schools by attending both Holy Rosary and Kearsley High School. 

“It was a very different Catholic high school experience because you only went half a day to your Catholic high school, which was a parish school,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “Then you walked across the creek to the large public high school, and you did the other half of your day there.” 

Mr. Huelskamp believes that going to both a Catholic and public high school is something that has shaped the person he’s become today. “Sometimes if you’ve only gone to one or the other, you don’t have a frame of reference,” he said. “So instead of being pro this [or] anti that, I would say that I came out with an appreciation for both.” 

Throughout high school, Mr. Huelskamp worked several different jobs. 

His first job that gave him a paycheck was Archway Cookies, where he loaded delivery trucks. From there, he worked in grocery and drug stores, construction, roofing, and painting.

One aspect of his previous jobs that has translated into his life today is his love for carpentry and construction, which are activities that Mr. Huelskamp has always enjoyed because they are physical outlets that contrast the amount of strategy and planning required daily at his job. 

“You’ll see me pressure washing the courtyards, or painting, or working on things on occasion, just for my own mental health,” he said. 

Mr. Huelskamp began his college career at the University of Michigan, where he studied engineering. Choosing this college made sense to Mr. Huelskamp because it was close by, made sense financially, and had a strong engineering program — a profession that many of his family members had also gone on to pursue. 

However, Mr. Huelskamp felt a pull towards the priesthood and decided that the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota was a better fit. There, Mr. Huelskamp entered the college’s seminary program, where he studied to become a priest while also completing his undergraduate degree. However, he decided a degree in history made more sense, also studying physics and philosophy. 

From his experience with finding the right college for himself, Mr. Huelskamp has insight to share with students who are considering where to go to college. “Realize that where you go does not define you,” he said. “You can get an amazing education from a large number of schools and universities.”  

It wasn’t until he was out of college that Mr. Huelskamp discerned that education was the path he wanted to take. 

Mr. Huelskamp moved to Oregon in 1992, when he started his first job out of college as a youth minister in Bend, as well as a tutor at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. 

He came with a group called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which is a service-based group “similar to the Peace Corps,” Mr. Huelskamp said. 

Mr. Huelskamp had always been intrigued by Native American culture and the profession of teaching, so he felt that those jobs were a great way to learn about fields he had previously not known much about. He also felt that with his background in his college’s seminary program, youth ministry would be the best use of his skills.  

“It was during that year that I was able to discern that God was calling me more to education than to the priesthood,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “Where I found the most fulfillment and I felt I could make the most impact was in tutoring, so I would say I found my vocation at Warm Springs Elementary school.” 

Mr. Huelskamp then went on to teach at several elementary, middle, and high schools, such as South Medford High School and Talent Middle School. From there, he taught religion, math, and social studies at Valley Catholic and was the founding principal at De La Salle North Catholic.

His most recent job was as principal of Sunset High School in Beaverton, where he had been for 11 years. Leaving that position “was a difficult decision,” he said. “I enjoyed what I did at Sunset.”

Mr. Huelskamp’s son is a current senior at Sunset, so his original plan was to stay there until he finished high school. However, the opportunity to work at La Salle came a year early.

While working at La Salle wasn’t in Mr. Huelskamp’s initial plan, the chance to return to Lasallian education after leaving De La Salle North Catholic 14 years ago was not something he could pass up. “The opportunity to return to the mission and charism of a Lasallian school and the opportunity to take on a new and different role was really inviting to me,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “And I wanted a new challenge.” 

While also enjoying being in a public school setting, Mr. Huelskamp appreciates the ability to once again incorporate aspects of his faith into his work. “The opportunity to bring my full self, in terms of my faith, and my Catholic identity into what I’m doing professionally is very appealing,” he said.

Mr. Huelskamp grew up in a “traditional German Catholic family,” but wanted to make his faith his own in college. He has continued to center faith in his life and has used the community it offers to help with raising his children. He feels that, in a faith-based community, there are always people to lean on for support and help. 

When Mr. Huelskamp is not working, he loves to go mountain biking with his youngest son. “My favorite place in the world is Whistler, up in Canada,” he said. “We went there for spring break one time, and it was amazing.”

In addition to spending time with his wife and four children, Mr. Huelskamp also enjoys woodworking and reading mystery novels. 

While his children don’t know a lot about the day-to-day details of his new job, they support his decision. “They think it makes sense,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “Just because they knew I was ready for a new challenge, and I think they see this role as one that really fits who I am.”