Two weeks after he took leadership of Fresno Pacific University, President Pete Menjares got an unexpected and lavish gift welcoming him to the neighborhood -- a new house.
Menjares announced the donation of a new presidential house from local business leader Ted Smith and his wife, Joyce, during a campus ceremony Tuesday.
The house will be a residence for all university presidents and their families, and used for ministry, study, university events and dinner parties.
The gift is the first of its kind; previous presidents have purchased their own homes.
"This is an unexpected blessing," Menjares said.
The gift gave a sunny start to the 2012-13 school year and Menjares' tenure.
University leaders celebrated Monday night at the donated house, a 4,546-square-foot, custom-designed home that sits on more than an acre on Columbia Drive three miles from the main campus in southeast Fresno.
Menjares said the gift is a sign of "God giving his approval of good work that is taking place at this university." He added that he was especially grateful for the Smiths' generosity in these uncertain economic times.
Menjares, who became the university's 11th president this month, will move into the house with his wife, Virginia, next year. They have been renting a house near the campus on South Chestnut Avenue since moving from Southern California about three months ago.
Ted Smith, 80, and his wife, 77, will move to assisted living in The Terraces in San Joaquin Gardens. They first offered the house to their four children, but Smith joked that they weren't interested because "it doesn't have a swimming pool."
The couple was hesitant to sell the house to strangers, and when a friend suggested donating it to Fresno Pacific, they found the "answer to our prayer," Smith said.
"We have always wanted it to be used in ministry," he said.
The Smiths, who are founders and members of Clovis Evangelical Free Church, have used their home to host Bible study groups, mission work and international college students.
Joyce Smith has authored Bible study guides and served on international mission trips; her husband has served with a number of Christian youth organizations. They have ties to the university through their daughter and granddaughter, both Fresno Pacific graduates; and their son-in-law, who teaches at the university.
The couple bought the house in 1970 when it was a modest, 2,200-square-foot ranch. Following a remodeling that was completed in 1999, the house more than doubled in size and is now valued at about $750,000.
The property includes expansive gardens, a horse corral and barn, a pond and a guest house, which will accommodate visiting lecturers and missionaries.
Donating the house, they said, is one way they can share their good fortune. Ted Smith has owned several Fresno businesses, including TSE Brakes Inc., a truck brake manufacturer he sold in 2008, days before the stock market crashed.
"The business went down, but we had the cash in our fist," he said. "We didn't put it in the stock market, we put it in the bank. God protected us."
Menjares, who joined Fresno Pacific after 17 years at Biola University, a Christian college in La Mirada, said his family was overwhelmed by the gesture. "We were dumbfounded," he said.
He and his wife enjoy hosting guests and plan to make the house a center of university activity. Because of their Christian values and Hispanic heritage -- which emphasize family and community -- both are natural entertainers.
"It's who we are and what we do," he said. "This is just a great gift."