This past June, on her 85th birthday, Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack, first woman president of a Michigan community college died. “The Kalamazoo community lost a titan” wrote Pat DiGiovanni, Dave Feehan, Jack Hopkins, and Ken Nacci in this June 30th MLive guest opinion piece in which they share examples of her bold and visionary leadership and encourage Kalamazoo to honor her with a permanent community tribute.
Three years ago, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo awarded Dr. Schlack with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. She was gifted a quilt (hand-sewn by Billie Gunderson) as a symbol of the many unique pieces she stitched together over the years to make Kalamazoo a stronger community for those who live, work, and go to school here.
As a tribute to her, we are re-running the post we ran on her award back in 2018.
This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by an anonymous friend of CIS, has been awarded to Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, CIS board member and Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema presented this prestigious award to Dr. Schlack who has served as the president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College for more than three decades, becoming Michigan’s first female community college president in 1982.
When I found out that Marilyn Schlack started out as a middle school English teacher in Saginaw, it all made sense. She learned early in her career about growth spurts and rapid changes. She learned to tolerate awkward and clumsy and to understand that blemishes aren’t forever. She learned what all parents of young adolescents must learn—stay positive, keep the lines of communication open and set limits that are firm and fair. It sounds like a formula for a successful community leader. And that is what Marilyn Schlack is.
Marilyn is a builder. If you look at the number of college and community buildings that have been erected because of Marilyn’s initiative, your conclusion has to be that she is a successful builder of buildings, of places—doubling the Oshtemo campus, building the Arcadia campus, creating the culinary arts center. But the core interest in construction for Marilyn Schlack, is in helping to build lives, build talent, build futures. The scores of young people just starting their independence journey and the countless number of older workers who started over after down-sizing, right-sizing and outsourcing, can point to the career building opportunities born of Marilyn’s creativity, her commitment to evidence and her genuine interest in stronger families, stronger communities.
Some see a certain irony in giving the Diether Haenicke Award, named for the late President of Western Michigan University, to another higher education president in the same community. Both of these individuals share several traits, in addition to their commitment to excellence and their belief in education as a means to better lives. One person suggested that Marilyn Schlack is “no-nonsense”—if Marilyn is involved, there just won’t be any nonsense. You might think you have the most compelling idea around, but if you want Marilyn’s endorsement, you better be prepared with the evidence. Innovative—how many wind turbine education programs are there in the country that can boast 100% employment for their graduates? Excellence, no-nonsense, evidence, innovative—all words that Diether Haenicke would approve of.
Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise, sums it up best: “Marilyn desires to improve this community—no one exemplifies that more. She is smart and knows how to get things done. Compared to what she has accomplished, her ego is small. She is driven by her desire to improve things for students and for families.”
As a CIS Board member and as the City Manager for the City of Kalamazoo, which has benefitted greatly from your selfless and inspired leadership, it is my great honor to present you with the 2018 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.
Marilyn, this hand-sewn quilt was selected for you as an apt symbol of the many, many unique pieces you have stitched together over the years to make this a stronger community for those who live here, work here and go to school here. Thank you for your service and for your love of Kalamazoo.