Marilyn Schlack, Michigan’s first female community college president, considered a “leader among leaders”


KALAMAZOO, MI – The Kalamazoo region wouldn’t look like it is today without the leadership of Marilyn Schlack. She marked the landscape and the people with whom she worked, say her friends and former colleagues.

Schlack, president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College from 1982 to 2018, died on Tuesday, June 22 at the age of 85, according to her obituary.

When Schlack took over the reins of KVCC in the early 1980s, she was the first female president of a community college in Michigan, the school said.

Schlack was “a leader among the leaders” in the Kalamazoo area, said Blaine Lam of Lam & Associates in an interview with MLive on June 24.

“She was the most effective leader I have seen in the community in the half century that I have worked in Kalamazoo,” Lam said.

Lam was a consultant on the Arcadia Creek and Arcadia Commons redevelopment project that helped change the look of downtown Kalamazoo. The projects were the culmination of decades of work, he said, but it took Schlack’s leadership to get them over the top.

Related: KVCC’s footprint on Kalamazoo has grown significantly under Marilyn Schlack

As chairman of a group defending the redevelopment, Schlack led the work, Lam said.

“It’s easy to forget that the city center around 1980 had boarded up windows and it felt like the whole city was falling apart and something had to be done,” Lam said. It was when the group took over to help with development that it started to move forward.

“It was Marilyn every moment that made things happen,” Lam said, calling her leadership style “incredible”.

Former Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, himself a KVCC graduate, also praised Schlack’s commitment to the school and the community at large.

“She was a great leader who worked hard every day for the success of her students and her cities,” said Hopewell. “I am the product of his work at KVCC. I will miss his advice and his friendship.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum, which is run by the community college, is an example of where Schlack’s leadership had an impact, Lam said.

Until 1984, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum remained a department of the Kalamazoo Public Library, according to the museum. From 1984 to 1991, the museum received its operating support from the Kalamazoo Town School District. In 1991, the museum became part of KVCC and gained community support through a charter mile.

Schlack worked closely with the Kalamazoo Town Commission and helped make possible the transfer of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum from the school district to the community college, Lam said, and was part of efforts to pass a tax to support museum operations for a long time. term. She led a $ 20 million campaign to build the museum downtown, Lam said.

“She inspired everyone across the region to come together,” Lam said. “I’m talking about CEOs and everyone.”

Schlack gained a reputation for showing up about half an hour earlier to meetings she attended, Lam said, and others have followed suit.

“I asked him once ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘I’m going to find out what the guys are talking about,’ ”Lam said. It was another testament to his strong leadership, he said.

Richard Olivanti, who retired in 1999 as vice president of college relations, was first employed at the school from 1969, shortly after the school was established.

Prior to the start of her career at KVCC, Schlack spent time at the faculty of Western Michigan University, where she was in charge of prospective teachers, Olivanti said.

Schlack was first hired at KVCC in 1974 and began as Associate Dean.

Olivanti worked closely with Schlack, he said. His office was right next to Schlack’s for over 20 years until his retirement, he said. They worked together to expand the Texas Township campus and on other initiatives in Kalamazoo.

“She was very visionary and made a commitment,” said Olivanti. “Commitment to the city center, because she believed that the neighborhood was important for the whole region. “

Schlack has been a leader in several campaigns that have made an impact in the community, he said.

“This whole region wouldn’t be the same without his efforts and his vision,” said Olivanti.

She was really good at mentoring people, he said, and helping others around her.

Ken Young, who said he was a director of KVCC for about 38 years, stepping down from the board about 5 years ago, said one of Schlack’s best qualities is giving credit to others.

“The board really got all the fame and it did all the work,” Young said.

Schlack was a caring friend, Young said. She could work with different personalities, like the people who sit on the board of KVCC, he said.

When community leaders began to consider the challenge of raising millions of dollars for the downtown project, people asked how it would be done.

“His response has always been ‘A piece of cake,’” Young said.

Lam has said the same thing and considers the phrase to be Schlack’s mantra.

Schlack herself attended community college before earning a BA in English at the University of Michigan, followed by an MA in English and Educational Administration.

She retired from KVCC in June 2018.

A 2017 MLive article described how Schlack enjoyed feeding birds peanuts from his office window. A painting on the wall, done by a former student, showed two brightly colored faces with broad smiles.

Marilyn Schlack’s desk faces a painting on the wall, made by a former student, she says, of two brightly colored faces with broad smiles. “The colors and the smile reassure me,” she said with a smile in a 2017 interview.Kalamazoo Gazette

In the 2017 interview, Schlack said that being a good leader is about working hard and listening to others, and the key to making big decisions is thinking about them. A leader must be willing to take risks, while being sure to calculate the risks well, she said.

Schlack said in 2017 that she hoped her legacy was about the people at KVCC.

“The people we have attracted to KVCC, the people who have invested in KVCC and the people who have helped KVCC be as successful as it is today,” she told MLive in 2017.

When she came to KVCC, there was talk of teaching machines, Schlack said previously, but they weren’t using computers there yet. KVCC has come a long way during his decades at the helm of the institution, now offering Wind Turbine Technician courses and establishing the New Media Center downtown, located along the redeveloped Arcadia Creek, for example.

KVCC President Marshall Washington, Ph.D. posted a message on the school’s website expressing great sadness upon learning of Schlack’s death.

“Dr. Schlack was a university president and an extraordinary community leader,” Washington said. most respected in the country. “

She was the first woman president of a community college in Michigan, according to Washington.

“Marilyn was passionate about student success, both on and off campus,” he said. “His leadership has resulted in the creation of two downtown campuses as well as other community development initiatives.

He pointed to the Arcadia Commons campus, including Anna Whitten Hall, the Center for New Media, and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

More recently, Washington said, Schlack is credited with his leadership which led to the development of 14 acres of previously unused land that is now the Bronson Healthy Living Campus. The Marilyn J. Schlack Culinary and Allied Health Building is home to the college’s healthcare career programs and its innovative culinary and brewing programs, Washington said.

“As college president, student advocate and community leader, we are eternally grateful for the indelible mark Marilyn left on this college and our community,” said KVCC President.

After announcing his retirement, Schlack remained in his leadership role until the college appointed Washington as the college’s third president in 2018.

Schlack is predeceased by her husband Larry and is survived by her son Michael Schlack, according to her obituary. Cremation has taken place. Private services will take place.

Memorial contributions may be made to the KVCC Foundation’s FBO Schlack Student Emergency Fund, according to the obituary.

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