Growing up in North Carolina, Dr. Les Garner Jr. learned the values of community service, integrity and family from his parents, all of which Les continues to use in his career and daily life. Les received his undergraduate degree in 1972 from the University of North Carolina and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy from Harvard University.
Les has a long history with higher education and worked as a special assistant to the director at the International Institute of Applied Systems in Laxenburg, Austria. He also worked as an assistant professor of business administration and director of the Young Executives Institute and Government Executives Institute at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. In 1987 he became president of North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. In 1994 with his wife, Katrina, and his two children, Brantley and William, Les arrived in Mount Vernon, Iowa where he became president of Cornell College.
Les served 15 years as president at Cornell, building on its success. He completed a major capital campaign and implemented innovative programming, including the LEADS program. Katrina was also instrumental at Cornell, in part by making thousands of pizzas for the freshman each year at their orientation. After completion of the capital campaign the timing was right for a change, so in 2010 Les joined the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation as President and CEO.
After transitioning to the foundation, Les got to work. When donors came to the foundation with desires in entrepreneurship and summer learning, Les convened organizations within the Cedar Rapids area to help develop MICRO and expand the Kids on Course Summer University. Loren Coppock commented that at the foundation, “Les makes the stone make the most ripples”. Under his direction, assets increased over 50 million dollars from 2010 to 2018.
Les is a unique combination of articulate academia and southern charm who networks in a way that seems effortless. “Les has utilized his vast contact network to elevate the status, scope and visibility of the organization, greatly increasing its impact in the community. Les has served as a community convener in his role by connecting people and organizations with complementary interests and expertise to establish collaborations that are making a difference,” said John Smith and Ron Olson. Under his leadership the foundation was internationally named the 2012 Outstanding Foundation by the Association of Fundraising Professionals for its service to the community during the aftermath of the historic 2008 flood. During the flood of September 2016, Les provided leadership in establishing and raising flood-relief funds for households, nonprofits and small businesses.
Les has also served for many organizations including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Higher Learning Commission, the Regional Vision Rising Strategy, the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cedar Rapids Symphony, the Cedar Rapids Symphony Foundation, the Junior Achievement Board of Trustees, the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids, the Iowa College Foundation, the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges, the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities and the Iowa Council of Foundations CEO Network.
Les and Katrina, were honored for their lifetime of work and community involvement by Planned Parenthood of ECI. Les was also named one of the Corridor Business Journal’s 2018 Most Influential. He has been recognized with personal and professional honors including Morehead Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa, North Carolina Fellow, Governor's Award (1981), Order of the Grail, Omicron Delta Kappa and Outstanding Young Alumnus Award (UNC General Alumni Association, 1991).