Lani Lowrie Kretschmar ’77 Gets Back to her Educational Roots at AIC.
If there was one word to describe the way Margaret “Lani” Kretschmar approaches her work—indeed, all of life—the Japanese term shibui comes to mind:
The person of shibusa modesty exalts excellence via a thoroughness of taking time to learn, watch, read, understand, develop, think, and merges into understatement and silence concerning oneself.”
AS EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT to AIC President Vince Maniaci and Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Kretschmar plays a vital role in ensuring that the needs of the College are met at the highest level. According to Maniaci, Kretschmar’s intelligence, integrity, and pursuit of perfection have redefined and reinvigorated the office. “Lani set out immediately to transform the office policies and protocols and took complete responsibility from day one. She is a perfectionist and will expect nothing less than perfection out of our office. Perfection is her goal—on a bad day she’ll tolerate excellence.”
If that makes Kretschmar sound rigid or intimidating, nothing could be further from the truth. When asked what stands out most about her given the scope of her skills and the wealth of her knowledge, Maniaci replied, “Her sense of humor. That is a must for this office.”
“I love the work I do,” said Kretschmar. “I love supporting the president, interacting with the board, feeling as though I’m contributing to the functioning of the institution, and getting to know people across campus. All different types of people are doing all different types of jobs here, but we serve the same mission—to get the students where they need to be. I want AIC to be considered the standard by which other four-year colleges are measured.”
It’s not surprising that Kretschmar, who has decades of experience providing administrative support to the highest levels of corporate leadership, is dedicated to her work at the College. For most of her life, AIC has been a “family affair.” Her father, the late Professor Robert Lowrie, taught anthropology and sociology at AIC from 1964 to 1996. “I’d been on the campus since I was 9 years old,” said Kretschmar. “The physical campus was part of my life, and it was a very close-knit community.” In 1977, she graduated with a bachelor’s in sociology (and, yes, she took some of her father’s classes), and her two younger sisters and her mother are also AIC alumni. After graduation, Kretschmar, who had married the year before, began working for Dexter Corporation in Windsor Locks, CT, and working on her MBA at Western New England College. By 1986, Kretschmar had her graduate degree and in 1988 gave birth to twins: her son Andrew, who is 15 minutes older than his sister, Christine. (Today, Andrew lives in South Carolina where he and his wife Allison both work at the University of SC in Columbia, and he is completing his master’s in library science. Christine works in development at MIT and lives in Boston with husband Brett Freiburger.)
Kretschmar started her career at Dexter as a secretary but, after only six months, was invited to become corporate administrative assistant to the Chairman of the Board/ CEO, a position she held for more than 20 years, work she loved with colleagues who had become like family. When a corporate takeover attempt directly and dramatically ended the existence of the corporate office in which Kretschmar had spent more than two decades, the change, she admits, was devastating. “Dexter was a fabulous company,” she said. “I was very lucky to have worked for a seventh-generation CEO in such a familial environment.”
Thanks to connections Kretschmar had made over the years in the Hartford community administrating Dexter’s philanthropic foundation, she soon was hired by the University of Hartford to manage a $175-million fund-raising campaign from 2001 to 2005. She then moved to the University of Massachusetts Medical School, serving as executive assistant to the vice chancellor for development for more than seven years.
As much as she enjoyed her time at UMass, however, when the position she now holds opened at AIC, Kretschmar didn’t hesitate to apply. In her typically self-effacing, understated way, when asked about that decision, she said simply, “It worked out. Lucky for me.”
President Maniaci—who often refers to his extraordinary assistant as “Radar,” the M*A*S*H character with an uncanny sixth sense—put it this way: “Lani showed from the get-go that she was a consummate professional. She is constantly looking out for me, whether it is a simple reminder or a potential challenge downstream, she is always thinking ahead. She brings me solutions for every challenge she identifies. Oh, and then there is that sense of humor.”
OUTSIDE OF HER ROLE as executive assistant, where her day “begins and ends based on what needs to be accomplished,”
Kretschmar is an avid reader. “I belonged to a book group for years, and I used to keep a journal of all the books I was reading. I love historical fiction—that’s how I learned most of my history.”
She is also an art lover, drawn more to landscapes and water scenes than portraiture, but if there’s a world-class exhibit within driving distance, she won’t miss an opportunity to attend. “Over the summer I went to the Clark Art Institute when Whistler’s Mother was on display, and there was also a Van Gogh exhibit. Right here in Springfield there is a series of museums known as the Quadrangle, and my favorite feature is the rotating exhibits. I can always go back and see something different.”
Kretschmar is a skilled seamstress, as well, who spent years making her own clothes and special occasion outfits for her children. “I still sew and knit,” she said. “I go through spurts. I’ve been making lots of table linens, knit scarves, and hats–whatever I come up with. I find my handwork relaxing and I enjoy seeing the finished product. It’s a task that is finite. It has an end point.”
Part of the satisfaction Kretschmar finds in creative pursuits-with-parameters might stem from how they contrast with the sometimes open-ended, often rapidly-changing nature of her work at AIC. “There are a multitude of things that have to be considered at a four-year institution, from regulations to accreditation to enrollment to making sure the right people are in the right places, and that’s challenging. In the blink of an eye, things can change. If FAFSA forms are suddenly due in October instead of February, in an instant you’re redirected. You have to be able to switch gears quickly.”
Kretschmar has no problem switching gears or, if the situation demands, phone systems. When it became clear the College’s telecommunications system was no longer serving the public, Kretschmar brought it to the attention of the president’s cabinet, addressed the system’s user-unfriendliness, initiated an upgrade, and took it all in stride, deflecting any attempt to inflate her accomplishment. “Everyone is multitasking and taking on as much as they can to make the campus run as effectively and efficiently as possible,” she said. “Customer service has to be a priority for us. If our constituents can’t communicate with AIC, we can’t respond to their needs. Upgrading our answering system is just one more way of making things better for our students, alumni, parents, and staff.”
Kretschmar’s commitment to AIC is unswerving, driven by her trademark passion for perfection. “I want to be remembered for maintaining standards that are high, establishing best practices in my craft, and fostering in others a sense of pride in both oral and written communication in order to effectively and accurately transfer knowledge and experience for the benefit of all, but most particularly for those served by AIC.
“My path began at AIC and has taken several turns since I graduated in 1977,” said Kretschmar. “After all these years of being an executive assistant, I am still learning about myself and evolving. I think I always knew my path would bring me back to campus. Every member of my family was on the AIC path at one time or another and mine continues. I hope the things I leave along the way will be picked up by other students, alumni, faculty, and staff and taken on their path, to be shared and left for others.”
-By Ellen Dooley