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After 43 years, Ortmeyer still working at Lincoln University

After 43 years, Ortmeyer still working at Lincoln University

October 15th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Rose Ann Ortmeyer at the President's Office of Lincoln University.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Some people may think Rose Ann Ortmeyer knows more about the Lincoln University president's job than the president.

"Absolutely not," she said last week. "I keep the calendar. I plan meetings. (I do) whatever needs to be done to make their life easier."

Ortmeyer — who officially retired last year but still works part-time as secretary to LU's Board of Curators and as executive assistant to new President Jerald Jones Woolfolk — has been working at Lincoln more than 40 years, including work in the president's office with six presidents and another six interim chief executives.

"Each one has had their own leadership style," she said.

And every time the person in the president's office changed, "Rose Ann adjusted," she said. "I don't think that was hard at all.

"I enjoy change. I enjoy learning new things. I enjoy the challenge — I guess I'll call it — and I just adapted."

Ortmeyer couldn't identify a "favorite" among those various bosses.

"I've loved working for each one," she said. "My role is to help make their job easier, help getting them organized (and) help getting them where they need to be, when they need to be there."

The biggest challenge of her job, Ortmeyer said, is "juggling all of that."

She couldn't identify many downsides of the job, either, "unless it would be having to tell a student that they have exhausted all of their avenues for becoming successful here," she said.

"That gets to me. But then I look at them and say, 'Then you should have put in a little more effort at going to class. If you'd done A, B or C, you'd still be here.'"

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She's kept up with the presidents and their families even after they've left Lincoln for other jobs.

James Frank was Lincoln's president when Ortmeyer first started at the school with a part-time job in 1974, working for the Social Sciences Department, during her senior year at Blair Oaks High School. She also was her senior class president.

After her graduation, Ortmeyer began working full-time as secretary to Thomas D. Pawley, then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He "became like a father figure to me," she recalled.

In 1981, when she became administrative assistant to then interim President John Chavis, Vivian Jones was the executive assistant, and "became like another mother to me," Ortmeyer said. "They became my 'other' family — my extended family."

Ortmeyer, a Taos native, was the 11th of 12 children, so she understands large families.

That may be why she's befriended so many students over the years, she said.

"I've made it my mission to get out there and know the faculty, the staff (and) the students," she said — noting she doesn't get out on the campus as much as she used to, "but I still try to get out there."

She added: "I guess I became a mentor, a big sister and, eventually, a Mom to some of the students."

She shared a tribute one of those former students gave during Homecoming a week ago.

That former student — now Antoinette "Bonnie" Candia-Bailey, Ph.D. and assistant vice provost and associate dean of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — told of how when she walked past the president's office at LU she said "I'd love to work here," and "the beautiful woman with the big smile said, 'When can you start?'"

Candia-Bailey called her 3 years in the president's office "a life-changing experience. I will forever be grateful for the leadership, mentoring and love I received from that office."

Ortmeyer retired 18 months ago so she could have more free time to travel and spend time with her siblings and their families.

But, she agreed to stay on in a part-time capacity, continuing as the Curators' secretary — a job where she's worked with more than 50 board members during her 43 years at LU — which mainly involves "taking the minutes and arranging things."

When she announced her retirement, Ortmeyer was asked to work part-time as the secretary for the search committee that was formed to find Rome's successor after he left LU to be the president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

That committee found Woolfolk, who began working as Lincoln's 20th president June 1 and recently told a reporter Ortmeyer "couldn't" fully retire, yet.

"That's nice to hear," Ortmeyer said.

Still, she noted, "Since I reduced my hours, I have given some of my responsibilities — the calendar, planning the travel for the president — to others."

Ortmeyer attended LU classes at night to earn her bachelor's degree, while she worked full-time during the day.

Her degree included classes in "secretarial science."

But, she said last week, while that information was helpful in her job, "you absolutely learn more on the job. There's no class you can take to learn how to be an executive assistant to a (college) president."

LU administrators also have had to learn to lead the school through changes over the years, she said.

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"Lincoln has had to be very flexible," she said, especially to accommodate the needs of students who carry full-time course loads while also working to pay for their classes and family obligations.

But those changes have been helped with ongoing support from the Jefferson City community and its businesses.

"The past five or six presidents have made Lincoln much more a part of the Jefferson City community than it had been," she said.

"It's not 'them' or 'us.' We are Lincoln — and I think the Jefferson City community is more open to that."

Although she's semi-retired, Ortmeyer said she's not ready to leave the job for good.

"I still like what I do," she said.

Her advice to her successor will be "to be open, to be willing to change, to be very flexible, and open to change at the last minute," she said. "Things happen — and that's just part of the job."

Ortmeyer can't point to a single highlight of her career — because "I have so many," she said. "When you touch a student's life, it makes you feel really good."