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Updated at 2:30 p.m. with more details from event.By Joe Holleman

After 16 years — along with thousands of degrees, several hundred thousand students and millions of dollars in grants, gifts and improvements — Tom George is retiring as chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

George’s retirement will take effect Sept. 1. He will step down as the longest-tenured chancellor in the school’s 56-year history.

“It has been the greatest experience of my professional life to serve as chancellor of UMSL,” George said, adding that he had “mixed emotions.”

“Some great things have happened here, but 16 years is a long time for a chancellor,” said George, 72.

Any successes during his tenure, George said, should be credited to the staff, faculty and students.

“Every day in one way or another, all of you here make me proud,” he said to the audience of about 350 who attended the announcement at noon in the Millennium Student Center.

George singled out the “diverse, hard-working and dedicated” students, saying he was most gratified when area employers would tell him that “our students hit the ground running.”

Mun Choi, president of the University of Missouri system, attended the event. He said an interim chancellor would be named in June and a national search would be conducted to pick a permanent successor.

This year, George’s salary is about $325,000.

Barbara Harbach, George’s wife, also will retire on Sept. 1. She is chair of the music department and director of the performing and fine arts school.

Drawing laughs from the audience, Harbach recalled that when the couple came to St. Louis in 2003, “the (thermometer) in the car was 105 degrees and I thought, ‘Oh my.’”

“But it has been a thrill, a pleasure and an honor” to live here, she said.

Former St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley praised George’s work for the surrounding communities.

“All the new building and development that Tom oversaw, it has stabilized this whole (North County) area. It is a cornerstone,” Dooley said.

One prominent event during George’s tenure was the building of the Express Scripts headquarters on the UMSL campus.

George Paz, former chairman and chief executive officer of Express Scripts, recalled when he met with George and a contractor on the site, which at the time was the school’s baseball field.

“We’re standing in center field, and I’m looking down and seeing a drainage pit and trying to figure out how we could put a building there,” Paz said. “But what Tom saw was opportunity.”

Paz said the new location allowed his company to offer jobs, scholarships and internships to UMSL students, “and to offer them, like it did for me, a chance to get a college degree.”

“And it is your passion for the students,” Paz said directly to George, “that has propelled this institution forward.”

George, also an avid jazz pianist, said he planned “on stumbling into things” in retirement. “That’s the way I usually end up doing things.”

George came to UMSL in September 2003, after having served for seven years as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Originally a chemistry professor, George holds master’s and doctoral degrees in theoretical chemistry from Yale University. His first faculty position was as a chemistry professor at the University of Rochester.

From there, George served as dean of natural sciences and mathematics at the University at Buffalo and then provost at Washington State University before heading to Wisconsin.

Under George’s leadership, more than 310,000 students have attended the school and have earned almost 45,000 degrees, according to university statistics.

Also during George’s tenure, the school has earned more than $337.7 million in research grants; raised almost $348 million in philanthropic support; and spent more than $153 million on new buildings and renovations.

Though George’s UMSL service ends in September, he will continue serving through 2020 as the president emeritus of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

UMSL has an annual enrollment of about 20,000 students over both semesters and summer sessions. It confers about 3,000 degrees a year and has about 100,000 alumni.