QUINCY -- Phil Conover will admit, even away from the office in his quietest moments, that it can be challenging to separate himself from his duties as president of Quincy University.
"It can be difficult to put passion on the shelf," he said.
Make no mistake, Conover is passionate about the university and its ongoing efforts to emerge as a success story.
A year ago at this time, QU was confronted with major financial problems, issues that were seriously clouding the school's future.
One year later, most of the pessimism that was hanging over the campus has been replaced by guarded -- but realistic -- optimism.
"I think 2018 will be a pivotal year to achieve sustainability for Quincy University, and I totally expect for that to happen," Conover said.
Conover, 73, is eager to enter his first full calendar year as QU president, having agreed to accept the post in September and stay through the 2018-19 academic year.
SClB"I love going to work every day," he said. "I love being around the people at QU."
Amidst the rigors of helping guide a recovery plan that is tied to the bottom line, Conover wants to create an environment of hope.
"You can sense there is a change in the air, there is optimism," said Matt Bergman, the director of development, alumni and community relations at QU. "I attribute much of that to Phil, and the way he interacts with students, staff and faculty."
Prior to becoming the 23rd president at QU, Conover played an integral role in the school's ongoing financial recovery plan that began in the fall of 2016. He first accepted an invitation to serve as interim chief operations officer and then became acting president in May after the resignation of Robert Gervasi, who left QU for the same position at Ohio Dominican University.
Conover appreciates the kind words that have been forwarded toward him, but is quick to emphasize there remains much work to do in the rebuilding of QU.
"It's not something I want to run away from," he said. "Things are going well, but they are still fragile."
Prior to assisting QU, Conover's past duties included being the interim president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation, vice president of instruction at John Wood Community College, teaching and coaching at several local high schools, dean of students and assistant principal at Quincy Notre Dame, and financial adviser at Blunt Ellis & Loewi and Wachovia Securities.
Conover said a plan is in place to increase enrollment, first to 1,200, then 1,500.
"It will take two to three years, and the coming year will be critical," Conover said.
QU has just less than 1,000 students on campus this year.
Conover said much of the past year has also been spent on strengthening infrastructure at the university and increasing productivity -- and fundraising.
QU has raised $4.5 million of a $7 million, five-year goal that is tied to the financial recovery. The school is also in the midst of a $1 million annual campaign that will run through June 2018.
Conover cannot say enough about the community's support -- financial and otherwise -- since the university's problems became public in October 2016. At the time, the university was facing a $5 million budgetary shortfall.
"A lot of people have really stepped up," he said.
Conover said the August study -- done by the Rural Economic Technical Assistance Center with the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs in Macomb -- that showed QU had a $53 million economical impact on the region it serves also seemed to hit home with many. Conover said that report accented the school's importance to West-Central Illinois and has drawn quite a bit of positive response. "The QU community is coming together," Conover said.
Conover has few -- if any -- regrets since the accepting the challenge to help the university, but does admit there is one area of his life it has greatly affected.
"My only regret is it has cut into my golf game," he said.