Community leaders react to hospital president's announcement

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Community leaders expressed appreciation for James Wente, who announced Wednesday his retirement as president and chief executive officer of Southeast Missouri Hospital, effective July 31, 2009.

Though his contributions to the hospital and medical community included expansion of staff and services, Wente also has played a role in civil service to Southeast Missouri. His involvement includes being past chairman of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, United Way of Southeast Missouri board member, Bank of Missouri board member, Cape Girardeau Lions Club member and Jackson Chamber of Commerce member.

Wente also has a passion for the outdoors. The hobby was reflected through his membership in Ducks Unlimited, numerous pictures and sculptures of geese in his office and an upcoming exhibit featuring geese artwork on the Southeast Missouri Hospital grounds.

John Mehner, president and chief executive officer of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wente's concern for the community has been evident in the way he supervised his employees.

"He's been a stalwart at the hospital for years," Mehner said. "Under his leadership, the hospital has thrived. He will be missed not only locally but nationally."

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson echoed the thought.

Wente "has been a trailblazer for the medical industry in Cape Girardeau and took the role of a community-based hospital to the highest level it can achieve," Knudtson said. "As a mayor, it has been powerful to share with prospective businesses the depth of health care we have here. With a town of 35,000 people, to speak of such success is very pleasing as a mayor and citizen."

Knudtson said the mark of a great leader is that when he or she leaves a company, the mission and vision of that organization continue. He expects those to continue once a new hospital CEO is hired.

"I'm hopeful for the future of Southeast Missouri Hospital," Knudtson said.

Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said he will miss the relationship the university and Southeast Missouri Hospital have had since Wente began serving as CEO and president in 1991. The two organizations cooperated to form the School of Nursing, which has graduated 635 people, and Southeast Health on Wheels, which takes health-care services to those who need them the most within the 8th Congressional District.

"That's just a small part of the legacy he's leaving," Dobbins said. "The community will miss him because they knew they could always depend on him and he'd give you a straight-up answer with a tough question."

Whatever his next phase in life is after retirement, United Way of Southeast Missouri executive director Nancy Jernigan assumes Wente will continue his involvement in community projects. Jernigan is excited that Wente has rotated back onto the United Way's board of trustees after a three-year term that ended in 1999.

"For all the power and influence that comes with a CEO position at a major hospital, Mr. Wente has always been very approachable and humble, which I admire greatly," Jernigan said. "I hope he plans to stay engaged with United Way and the community after his retirement."

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