Margaret Reardon - Oral History Memoir
Interviewed in person by Jennifer Rudolph
December 2, 2014
Massasoit Conference Center – Brockton, MA
RUDOLPH: This is Jennifer Rudolph, Coordinator of Libraries at Massasoit Community College. Today is Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014. I am interviewing for the first time, Margaret Reardon, former Executive Assistant to the President of the college. The interview is taking place in the Massasoit Conference Center at 770 Crescent Street in Brockton, Massachusetts. This interview is being conducted by the Massasoit Community College Library and is part of the Oral History Project for the 50th anniversary of the college. First, I wanted to thank you, Peg, for agreeing to interview with me for the 50th anniversary of the college and tell us a little bit about your experiences at Massasoit. So could you begin by talking a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and where you went to school.
REARDON: I’d be happy to. First of all, thank you for inviting me. I meant to say that earlier when we first came in. I was quite honored when I got your letter asking me to come because Massasoit is so much a part of who I am and been so much a part of my life for thirty years. I truly am honored to be here. In regards to myself, I grew up in Boston, born and brought up there. Member of a strong Irish Catholic family with a great mom and dad, younger brother Tom. Grew up in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood where it was very family-oriented because our entire family seemed to live there. We had my uncle and aunt upstairs with my cousins and the entire three-deckers of the house next to us were all family members as well, with lots of kids—true Irish family and very close. I went to the Parish schools, St. Thomas Aquinas from grammar school all the way through high school. Great education with the St. Joseph nuns. And from there, received a scholarship and went to Emanuel College in Boston. And I think it was finally when I got to Emanuel that I did finally start to come into my own. I was able to break away a little bit more from that whole Irish-Catholic family, you know; not that I wanted to break away completely, but I became my own person. I graduated in 1970 from Emanuel with a bachelor’s degree in English and a teaching certification in secondary ed[education]. I have close friends from Emanuel that are still my friends today. We get together all the time. So I feel very blessed to have those friends in my life. After Emanuel, I went to work at New England Telephone Company, which is where I eventually met my husband. We married in 1973, and we lived in Springfield for the first four years of our marriage, returning to Boston when he got transferred. I attended Stonehill College, where I received a certificate in computer—a master certificate in computer programming. And I also went to Northeastern University and Worcester New England College, where I attempted to finish my MBA but unfortunately was diagnosed with MS [Multiple Sclerosis] and was quite sick in the first couple of years of that and so, therefore, I never finished the MBA that I, to this day, regret.
RUDOLPH: Well, that’s very interesting. You also have children.
REARDON: I do. I am blessed with seven children. Six children from my husband’s first marriage and one, my beautiful daughter Mary, who is now married and has two sons—I have two grandsons through them—just the delights of my life—Connor[phonetic], who is four and Collin[phonetic] who is one.
REARDON: Thank you.
RUDOLPH: What were you doing before you came to Massasoit and what brought you here?
REARDON: Well, I was working for New England Telephone Company. I was their Director of Customer Service for the Boston area. And then when I met my husband, we were transferred, as I said earlier, to Springfield. At that point and time, I did leave the telephone company to explore different avenues. It was very difficult to have my husband in an upper management position and myself—it was just kind of difficult, and I wanted to move on to something else. I started to work for Talbots and became Director of Customer Service for Talbot’s, the women’s catalog company, and just had a terrific career there. Then while I was there became pregnant and had my daughter Mary. After a year or so, I moved on and I started to work for Continental Cablevision in Brockton—we had moved to Brockton by that point. And that was when I really got sick with the MS and had to take some time off. About a year later, when things started to return to normal, I applied for a part-time position at Massasoit to see if I could handle it physically. And Trudy Masterson, God love her—she was the assistant to Jim Yaz[phonetic], who was the Dean of Academic Affairs—hired me as her assistant and during that first year of being part time, I was able to get some of my confidence back, and Massasoit was a very welcoming community and when a position became available full time, I went for it.
RUDOLPH: Good, good. We all take different avenues to getting where we end up, I guess is that story. [talking at same time]
REARDON: I guess, yes.
RUDOLPH: You’ve told us about your life, but what time period are we talking about that you first started working here at Massasoit? [talking at same time]
REARDON: I started in 1985.
RUDOLPH: And how many years were you here together?
REARDON: Well, I had twenty-seven years full time when I retired, and three years of part time. When I initially started, I had about a year and then became the faculty secretary in the Language Arts division.
RUDOLPH: What was the college community like when you first came here?
REARDON: Massasoit in the mid-80s, it was—well, for me, it was a very welcoming community as I said before, and obviously much smaller than it is now. Everyone knew everyone else. There was no walking into the room and saying, “Oh my God, I don’t know half the people in here.” Very, very welcoming. Very social community. The employees—for lack of a better way of saying it—did a lot of partying. We had a lot of events and families became involved. We just really got to know everyone. And there was a great commitment, I believe then as it is today, to put our students first; everyone was very student-centered, who worked hard for our students. And it was a terrific place to start off and that’s why I guess never left.
RUDOLPH: What were the students like when you first came here?
REARDON: I don’t think the students then are a lot different than they are now. I think our students are here, the majority of them anyway, to get the educational opportunity to make their lives better. A lot of our students come from backgrounds that are very difficult, and others come from middle class backgrounds that maybe had a little bit more, but the mesh is always the same, that I believe our students are just trying to make their lives better in the long run.
RUDOLPH: You’ve talked about a little bit about what brought them here, but why specifically to Massasoit, do you think they came?
REARDON: The students?
REARDON: Well, I think many come to get started, maybe getting out of high school, a lot of our students—at least then and some now—much less, I think, than back then—didn’t really know what to do or where to go, and they needed to get started on their educational journey. And some come to be able to get a certificate and get out and immediately go to work. Some of the certificate programs—we didn’t have as many back then as we do now—but some did. Others, associate programs for particularly in allied health in order to be able to go out and to get a job as a nurse or as a RAD tech or respiratory therapist. Others came to get started, as I said, and be able to transfer to other colleges to complete a four-year degree. And I think people, as I said, come for different reasons. But the end, bottom line of it is they’re looking to better their lives.
RUDOLPH: At that time period when you first came in the 80s, who were some of the colleagues that you might remember?
REARDON: It’s hard to forget [both laugh]. I was in the English department and the Modern Languages department. At that point in the time, it was called the Language Arts Division. And it has since been changed, but the English Department was the largest department on campus, and I believe it still is. And also probably the most vocal. We had a lot of really strong-willed, incredibly dedicated faculty. Dr. Maxwell—Marilyn—was just such a sweetheart. Paul Gore. Charlie Caputo was the chair of the Modern Languages department at that time, but he had Tony Simonelli with him and also, of course, our dear Juanita Brunelle, who started the ESL program during the time that I was there. I worked very closely with Juanita on that. My dear friends Carol Sokolowski and Kenn Anania, some of our characters like Mary Casey and Nancy Darling—our flashy, wonderful Nancy Darling. Al Desrochers, who was such a terrific teacher and so student oriented. And T.P. Elliot-Smith, who I believe is our longest-term faculty member and who I heard is just retiring, so he had 50 years here. So a lot of really terrific people who make many contributions. And it was always a lively corridor, truly lively corridor. Steven Tooker, who was my first Division Chair, and he was followed by Brenda Mercomes, who I worked for for ten years in that capacity.
RUDOLPH: A lot of people I remember, too. What part do you feel Massasoit plays in the community?
REARDON: You know, I thought about that question, and I believe when I first got here, the role in the community was not large. I think we were a little bit isolated. I mean I was living in Brockton until I came for the interview. I didn’t even realize it was here. And during those first years, I think we were all working towards trying to establish ourselves as a college, a viable college. There were some in the city that referred to this place as Massatoilet, which is just so wrong. And many of my colleagues, all of us worked so hard to get rid of that reputation and get the one of esteem that we have now. I think that the people in the community view Massasoit as a state-sponsored institution and really were not that involved with us. But through the years, that has changed dramatically. And I hope that it will continue to change. There’s so much that we can do for them, and in return, they for us. You know, just all of the programs that have since been started, the support that we get for our scholarship programs for a lot of the businesses in the community, and I think that we provide through workforce development now many services out in the community that were not there in the mid-80s.
RUDOLPH: Okay, thank you. That was very good. What do you see as some of Massasoit’s biggest accomplishments?
REARDON: I believe, first of all, our reputation, as I had mentioned earlier. I think that you say the word Massasoit now and people say, Yeah that’s a great school. That wasn’t always the case. So there’s a lot of hard work that went into that. I see as our one of our greatest accomplishments is that our students—I mean how many thousands and thousands of graduates that we have now—that are out there utilizing the skills and the knowledge that they got here in order to make their own lives better but also helped the businesses where they work. And now through so many different things, the downtown center that we’re going to have and the workforce development that I had mentioned earlier, that new allied health building going right next door to us being built even as we speak. These are great accomplishments. And it’s all because of the faculty and staff who worked with our students to make them a vital part of this community as so many of our students—I’m not sure exactly what the percentage is—but the majority of us do stay and work in this community after they leave Massasoit.
RUDOLPH: Thank you. What do you see as the college’s disappointments?
REARDON: That’s kind of hard to define. I do believe that we need to do more in helping the community, the outside community, in southeastern Mass [Massachusetts] realize that so much of what we do here now depends on them, not only financially but in their support as well. I honestly think that through the years, perhaps one of the things we might have been able to do a little better would be to truly say what our mission here is and to have the people in the community realize that we are here not just to serve our students but to serve the community in which they live and we live. It’s only recently, you know, perhaps in the last five to ten years that we have even been able to get people, through fund raising efforts, to contribute financially to the school because the mindset is everyone, I think—well, I shouldn’t say everyone—but a lot of people believe that we’re completely supported by the state, so we don’t need them—we don’t need their money. And our students do need that money. And perhaps later we’ll talk a little bit about some of our fundraising efforts and the United Student Fund, which is so important. But I believe that we’re on the right track, but there’s a lot left to be done to get our name out there and let the regular people know that we’re here for them.
RUDOLPH: Okay. What are the most difficult problems that you faced at the college, and what were the outcomes?
REARDON: I think most of the college-related problems that I faced were student problems. And those problems, many of them, were especially when I first started off in the English Department and the language area, students would come in, and it was academic problems. And you would work with them or help them get in touch with faculty members and try to set up tutoring and get them into the services of the ARC and etcetera. But as I moved on into the administration area, those problems became financial and social in nature. And it would break my heart sometimes to see these students come in, and they would walk into the president’s office and expect to sit down with the president, pour their hearts and soul out, and see if the president could help them. And it was not obviously—not that the president didn’t want to sit down with every student who came in, but if he did that, he would have absolutely no time for anything else. He had a steady stream. And I know that Barbara Finkelstein—my great friend who was, up until recently, the Senior Vice President and Vice President of Academic Affairs—felt the same way. And one of the things that the two of us came up with was the United Student Fund, which is just so close to my heart. You would see students come in who might be able to get financial aid but could not come up with the four, five, sometimes even six hundred dollars a semester for books. Or as the fees increased, had difficulty with that. Or the mandated health insurance, which obviously is important, but if that is another $1000 to $1200 dollars a year, it makes it impossible for some of these students to succeed. And because of this United Student Fund, I believe we have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of students staying with us. It was not a difficult sell. Barbara and I both met with Dr. Wall, who very graciously, truly graciously, accepted our suggestion of not only the fund but to change the goal for the galas to use the gala proceeds to fund the United Student Fund. And if it were not for that, we would still be in a situation where we were losing of hundreds of students. And, as they say, I think that it was a great step for the school. It helped so many students. And I also think in a lot of ways, the establishment of the United Student Fund and the gala’s change in mission to that helped the college community return a little bit to—not that they’re not student-oriented, because they are—but I saw a great return of people putting themselves out in order to be able to help a student. And I think it’s been, to me, it’s probably the greatest thing that I was able to be a part of during my thirty years here at Massasoit. On a personal level, I don’t know if you want to get into this or not, but I think my largest personal challenge was the great audit of the president’s office in, I believe it was in 2000 and 2001. That was an extremely difficult time for me to get through. I learned lot from it. But it was a difficult time. So I kind of sum it up that way. [talking at same time]
RUDOLPH: Thank you for those words. For those who are listening to this, too, I wanted to mention that the gala is Massasoit’s probably largest fundraiser.
REARDON: It is the largest fundraiser, yes.
RUDOLPH: Let me go on to some other questions that are more focused on you, I think a little bit. And early, we talked a little bit about your early position here at Massasoit as faculty secretary to what is now called the Humanities and Fine Arts Division. When you first came, it was the Language Arts Division, I think you mentioned.
REARDON: Yes, that’s correct.
RUDOLPH: Could you tell us a little bit about the structure of the academic divisions of the college?
REARDON: Sure. There were five divisions here on the Brockton campus. Canton was another one. And this wasn’t just strictly an academic affairs. Middleborough, of course, was not around at that point in time. I’m glad that it is now since now my home town but was not then. We had Allied Health, Language Arts, Science, Business, Social Sciences, and then of course Canton. Each division was led by a division chair, who is now a dean. Each division was assisted by a faculty secretary, which is how I started, and an assistant faculty secretary. We dealt with a lot of people. Sometimes I think back and wonder how did we ever handle it? And my division alone, between full-time and adjunct, there were eighty people starting off. And that has only grown since then. It was a very busy time. My division was located in the Humanities Building. We shared the infamous English corridor, and it was infamous for many different reasons with the Nursing faculty, so we became very friendly through the years with a lot of the members of that faculty too. My dear friend Ruth MacDonald who retired many years ago, now is in her nineties, was the faculty secretary. Faye Burzon was the Chair of Nursing. She was quite the character. So charismatic and what a strong leader she was. And of course Anne McNeil, who is still the Dean of Allied Health. As I said, I worked originally for Steve Tooker, who decided to return to faculty. Then for Brenda Mercomes, just an incredible leader for ten years.
RUDOLPH: What were some of your duties as a faculty secretary? I think you do scheduling?
REARDON: Well, we do scheduling with, of course, the Division Chairs. People would laugh now when they would think—I actually laugh when I think back to how we dealt. I was thinking of this as I was looking at some of these questions, and I remember that there were two phones in the entire division. Two. [JR laughs] One in my office and one in the part-time faculty secretary’s office. And all phone calls came through us. There was one phone in each of the faculty offices, but it was only an internal phone. So, I mean it’s just amazing just to even think of that. Then they changed the phone system, and it cut over, and I will never forget this. I don’t know remember which year it was, but I do remember the day distinctly. They cut over the new telephone system on the first day of school in September. And it was an absolute disaster. People had never dealt with voicemail before or—it was just crazy. I mean there were mornings I would come in—we all started early; we had to be here by seven thirty in order to do cancellations and etcetera for faculty classes—for faculty who might not come. And you’d have a full mailbox and you’d literally spend an hour taking off all of these messages. There was a message board outside of my office with everyone’s name on it. You would hand write and plug these little messages on. We had, of course, responsibility for preparation of syllabi and tests and etcetera. And none of the areas had copy machines, so we had to two and three trips a day over to the copy center to get everybody’s stuff. We did have the purple master machines that oh my God, when I think of that, and they were actually fabulous because you could just go in a moment’s notice and get anything you need. Some of our younger people would laugh if they could—you know, could have seen us going home at night with our hands just—we had a special cream to get that purple ink off, which didn’t work very well. But all of us kind of fought in the end as those became obsolete to hold onto them because they were just relics, but they did a good job. We then at one point moved over to—we had a Wang computer and then moved to the Burrows computer, which I don’t even think that company exists any more. But, it was a Title 3 Grant that we got, I believe, sometime in the early nineties that was able to eventually help us to get our individual computers. But basically our duties consisted of helping the faculty and whatever their needs were to support the effort going on in the classroom, cancellation of classes as I mentioned, and all the preparation. We did a lot of mentoring of tests for students who either missed or whatever. Lots of student interaction. So it was a very busy place.
RUDOLPH: Seems like your positions you had at Massasoit, the students were always coming to you. [laughs]
REARDON: Well, I guess maybe it’s part and parcel of the—but I must admit, there are some students that I actually ended up helping because I had an English background, so I would help some of the kids. One of them in particular, to this day, and it ends up he is Chair of the Board of Trustees now was Pamerson Ifill, who was one of my all-time favorite people. And when he first got here, again, I’m not sure what the time frame was, but he was probably the most enthusiastic student I’ve ever seen in my life, and it carried through and he is truly I think is the epitome of what the Massasoit experience is, going from where he started, begging Dr. Burke at the time, to help him financially so he could stay here through to getting his degree here and moving on to getting a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and eventually coming back to serve on the board, and then share—it’s truly—I just [talking at same time] it really is a story. And I remember him from when he was taking his first English classes. And a matter of fact, the first time I saw him as a Trustee, he was coming in to meet Dr. Wall and for those of you who don’t know him, he’s probably 6ꞌ 6ꞌꞌ or 6ꞌ 7ꞌꞌ and somewhere in that range. And as you know I’m not a small person. He walked in, picked me up, and swung me around, [JR laughs] he was so happy to see us as I was him. But just a terrific guy.
RUDOLPH: It is often said that if you want something done, befriend the secretaries and the maintainers. What do you think is meant by that and how true is it at Massasoit?
REARDON: Oh, I think those who made friends of the secretaries and maintainers were the very intelligent ones. Because as we all know, nobody works in a vacuum, and everyone is here in whatever way they can to support obviously the faculty and their mission in the classroom, but I do not believe that any faculty member or any teaching staff member can survive without that support. Even to this day, where so many faculty do their own, obviously their own tests and their own syllabi because of the technology that’s come across. It is still necessary to have that support person to be there, to perhaps sometimes deal with the student who’s walking in to do things, picking things up, organizational, obviously became quite the big thing. [talking at same time] And our maintainers, God love them, I mean, what would you do if the place was filthy or if something didn’t work or something was broken and needed to be fixed? They have always been there for me through many, many years, and I have great, great admiration for our maintenance staff and obviously for the secretarial staff. We were a very close-knit group all the way through and became great friends through the years.
RUDOLPH: Well, it shows that Massasoit, the term ‘colleagues’ at Massasoit is—
REARDON: Well, I think that was one of the things that amazed me the most when I first came here. As I said, I was dealing with some very real health issues and I honestly felt that coming in, I was perhaps going to be looked down upon, but I can honestly say that absolutely never happened to me in all the years I was here. You know, we just worked together and worked as a family and so many of us became great friends, and of course the lunch room was quite the place as you well know. And we started off in the Wampanoag room, which is now a class, but that’s where we met people from across the campus and spent time together. It’s a very welcoming place.
RUDOLPH: Got to know people that perhaps wouldn’t cross paths with, otherwise.
RUDOLPH: You were on the presidential search committee that hired Dr. Robert Rose as Massasoit’s fourth president. Could you explain the presidential search process to us?
REARDON: That was quite, quite the experience. I had been here at that point, I think, eleven years. I believe it was 1996 that it started. And Rocco Richardi who was the union steward at that time, they had put a position up to be the support person for the presidential search and encouraged all of us to apply for it. And, so I did. And strangely enough, I got a phone call from the president’s office a few days later, and Lou Colombo, who was the Executive Vice President, and that time, the interim president, because Dr. Burke had left, called me into his office and said, “You will not say no. You will accept this job.” And I was very happy, frankly, over in the H Building with my friends and the English people, the language people. I really did not want to do it. The only reason I had applied was because Rocky had asked us to, so we did. And whatever I must have said in the interview struck someone and they asked me to do it. So I said, “Okay.” And needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a seven-month long process. Met some incredible people. I became very close to a lot of the people who were on that committee, particularly the faculty members, like my dear, dear Lois Martin and Peg Norris, Jack Keating was on that as a faculty member. And it was very specifically set up, the information, as far as the makeup had come from the chancellor’s office. There were thirteen members. I just remember I could close my eyes and see them all sitting around that table. There were five trustees, three faculty members as I said. There was a non-unit professional there, Joe Rucker, who was the director, I believe—I guess his title was then—of Human Resources. An ____[??] member, Cheryl Zarella. And there were three community leaders. So it was quite a diverse group. They went through quite the process to get those three community leaders. They were all from Brockton. And we met for the first time one evening, and the chair of the committee at that point was Larry Novak, who was the Chair of the Board of Trustees. It was a turning point, I think, in my life and also I believe in the life of the college. We were at a crossroads; we had had Dr. Burke as president, I believe at that point, for twelve or thirteen years. But we were leaderless at that point. And it was a time of anxiety, I believe, for a lot of people. We went through Lou Colombo first of all, who was the first interim president. And then he retired, and then Neil Buckley, who was the chief financial officer at that time, stepped in and became the second interim president. So we actually had gone for almost an entire year by the time Dr. Rose was selected to be—it was a long time to be without a leader. And it definitely, with the college growing at the rate that it was, we really needed that. I think it was a time, too, when the faculty union, they truly got involved in administrative affairs—not to the detriment of anyone. I don’t mean that as saying that they were interfering at all. I think they were, they really spoke up and helped people to understand what they were looking for. It was a very vocal time on campus, and a lot of people got involved. We received over a 150 applicants from across the country. I was just amazed at how many people did apply. It was quite an involved process. I worked with Paul Burns, who was the president’s aide for this. And we came up with all kinds of questionnaires for these people. The group was initially cut down to I believe thirty applicants, and from there was cut back to, I believe there were twelve semi-finalists, and they determined that we were going to have those interviews off campus. And we lived at the Holiday Inn in Brockton—at the time it was the Holiday Inn, I’m not sure what it is now. And they were actually very good to us, and we did all of those interviews there. The law required that it be an open-meeting format so that all interviews were open. And that was a little difficult, but managed it quite well. We had representatives from the college community in the audience at every single interview. That group was then cut down to four people who I remember so well because I actually ended up becoming close to a lot of these people. You did so much talking with them arranging their traveling. We had our only female finalist came from California. We had a gentleman from Indiana. We had an in-house candidate—Terry Gomes—and then of course we had Dr. Rose from Texas. So all of those arrangements had to be made and brought in. Each of them spent time on campus prior to their final interview. And that was the atmosphere the day of the final interviews. I believe it went over two days. It was incredible because the interviews were conducted, again, in open-meeting format, in the Louison Board Room, and there was such a clamor on campus for everybody who wanted to attend. Yeah, I think you might remember this.
RUDOLPH: I remember this, yeah.
REARDON: They set up the upper student lounge with close circuit and hundreds of people sat out in that—they’ll tell you the interest level on the campus, what was going to happen.
RUDOLPH: I think even students were there—
REARDON: Oh, students came. I mean, it truly was something. And I would meet with each of the individual people. We were actually meeting in Maureen Thayer’s office because they had to set up a quiet room. And I think the thing that I remember so much about that day, other than the crowd outside and how many people were interested, is how nervous each one of those candidates were. And how much they all wanted that job. It was just amazing to think that they had come and for some of them, like Terry Gomes, he lived here. But for the other three who had obviously done a lot of research on the school but had spent time here, they—there was something about Massasoit that appealed to all of them. And before or since, I’ve never seen such interest from people in coming to try to be a part of this Massasoit family. At that point I actually had to time the interviews. Their questions were timed so that we wouldn’t go ad infinitum. And I escorted each of them in and introduced them to the members of the search committee, and they obviously spent—we spent about two and half to three hours with each person. And never once did the crowd—I mean it changed a little bit, but it never changed numbers wise. It was such an interest level, and the actual vote did not take place until night time, and people stayed to see who was going to be elected. And Cheryl Savage was the chair of the Board at that point, and the vote was taken and—it took ballots. I remember that distinctly, but Dr. Rose was unanimously elected as the president. And I remember Cheryl and Nancy Smith, who was the alumni representative to the search committee, went over to the president’s office with Neal Buckley, and Cheryl called Dr. Rose to tell him that he had been elected and would he be willing to accept the position and of course, he immediately did. And I will never forget it because he immediately then asked to speak to me, and she handed me the phone, and he was just so gracious and so excited about coming. It was quite the experience. Afterwards, after we closed everything up and sealed the records, because of course those records have to be sealed—they’re still over there. I know when they cleaned out the bull pen, they had the fireproof file with everything in it. And we ended up having to go to Boston because the chancellor and the Board of Higher Ed had to do the file approval. But it was an exciting time. And I think we came up with an excellent man. And then I returned to go back to the Language Arts Division.
RUDOLPH: And how long did you stay at that Language Arts Division?
REARDON: Not very long. [both laugh] Bob Rose came back in a few weeks later and informed me that the secretary to the president, Jonalene Bruno was retiring and would I consider coming on board as his assistant. And I thought long and hard about it, and I spoke to some people. I wasn’t sure that I wanted that level of excitement in my life [laughing]. But he was very persuasive and I decided to take the position. And I remember it so well because it was April 1st, 1997, the day of the great and incredible blizzard, and I don’t know how much snow we got, but it was just unbelievable. He had come in the night before—his first day of school was canceled because there was so much snow on the ground in April, but that’s how we started off. [laughs]
RUDOLPH: And he was coming from Texas—
REARDON: Galveston, Texas, yes.
RUDOLPH: Although he was Canadian.
REARDON: Originally Canadian, so he was used to it but hadn’t seen it for quite some time. [laughs]
RUDOLPH: Okay. You were Dr. Rose’s Executive Administrative Assistant, and you also served Dr. Wall. This is a great responsibility. What it is like working for an executive administrative assistant for the president of the college?
REARDON: Well, my original thoughts when I took the position proved to be so—it’s a combination of a lot things. It’s exciting. You get to meet a wide array of people from across the state, across the educational spectrum. You work at a different level with different topics than I was used to after almost a dozen years with the English department. But it was also a very stressful position as well. You always knew that you were in many instances, especially with the public and with the political elements in the state, you were the first contact most of these people had with the college and so therefore you always wanted to make sure that you represented the college in the best, positive light that you could. There also were times when people felt that the president’s office was the last avenue, the last resort to getting resolved, so there would be anxious times with students—sometimes employees—obviously the Board of Trustees members, so there was a lot of anxiety associated with it. Many, many deadlines and time frames that you just had to keep within. Strong budget things and at all times providing as much as support as you could possibly give to the president and I often wondered why anybody would want to be president to tell you the truth. But, both of the men that I served were terrific people and good to work with and work for.
RUDOLPH: Did you find that the skills that you had learned as a faculty secretary were at all used when you got up to the—
REARDON: Oh, definitely. Especially the student part of it. And I think any time you deal with having to work for basically eighty people as I did in the faculty department, you learned to budget your time; you learned to organize. One of the big things that I did in president’s office was plan events; I mean, huge events sometimes. And I truly learned a lot of those skills, I believe—I mean I had some of them, obviously, from my prior experience out in the real world, but things that I learned from the faculty over there and from people in general on the campus.
RUDOLPH: One of the things I wanted you to talk about was that—and we’ve touched on this a little bit—that the duties were kind of expanded. You know, you had similar duties on a kind of lower scale when you were at the division level. But when you went up to the administrative level, they kind of expanded to bigger parties, bigger events, and more deadlines. You also had some interesting things you had to do. I understand that you helped the Rose’s find housing when they first came?
REARDON: Well, actually I did. Lou Colombo had asked me to—no, actually, it wasn’t Lou, it was Neil Buckley who asked me to help them. And because they knew nothing about the area. And I arranged for temporary housing for Dr. Rose over at Stonehill College. I was very familiar with Stonehill because my husband worked over there, and I knew they had guest houses and etcetera, so rather than putting in a hotel, I thought that might be a good way of going. And I always remember the day that we went over to meet the president, and he was just such a—Father Bart—he was just an incredible character, and we were in this little cottage with a thatched roof—it was like straight out of ___island[??] He asked us into his living room and wanted to give us tea and, it was Linda Rose and of course Bob and myself, and he referred to me as the scout, and he said, “Here’s my Peggy, my scout,” and I went, “Oh my God,” but actually in some strange way, that what was had happened. And, we sat there in his living room with him rocking in his rocking chair, sipping tea with him, telling us how he had a slow day yesterday because he had raised only $100,000, and our mouths went [both laugh]. He was, as they say, quite the character and just a wonderful time. Bob, as I said, ended up living there and then, you know, once Linda got here, um, we did do a little bit of traveling and we were able to—she was able to find a house in Bridgewater, and that’s where they ended up settling.
RUDOLPH: A good assistant must become indispensable to a president, and from all accounts, you were that, Peg. How difficult is it to leave an institution that you have affected so greatly?
REARDON: It’s very difficult to leave. I had hoped to be able to stay a few years longer than I did. I retired in 2011. I had hoped to stay until I was 65, which would have been last year, but health got in the way; the MS reared its ugly head again with a number of different things and the doctors advised me that I had to leave or I was not going to live very much longer. So, that even made it a little more difficult because mentally I was not ready to leave. But you do what you have to do, you never know what God is going to send your way. Dr. Wall was extremely gracious. And I do want to say one thing about him. When Dr. Rose left to take the position in New Jersey, we had no idea who was coming in. And historically, when a new president came in, people who held the position that I did were asked to leave or they were reassigned elsewhere. It happened with—you know, right from Dr. Musselman’s time through. And we had no idea what to expect. Dr. Wall was coming from the Board of Higher Ed. And I will never forget it, he came in as interim, obviously, and we were meeting with the Board of Trustees and Sandy Kenny[phonetic], who was one of my assistants in the office and I were there late, and he got there, and he came in and introduced himself and asked us to go over to the Board with him, which we did. And I literally had no idea whether he was going to ask me to leave, because I was told that sometimes, even the vice presidents are asked to give in their letters of intent to retire or whatever, and it was about two or three days later, everyone was kind of walking around on eggshells and he called me in and told me that he wanted me to stay on. And I was, first of all, relieved, because I certainly wasn’t ready to retire at that point in my life. And then I had the privilege of working for him for over eleven more years. And we had obviously our ups and downs through eleven years as, you know, Dr. Rose and all of us did for the four that he was president. But I thought that was extremely gracious of him to keep me on when it would have been very simple to just say, Bye bye. And he didn’t and it was really the first time that had happened.
RUDOLPH: That was a wonderful thing for him to do.
REARDON: It was. It truly was. And I can remember talking to friends saying, I wonder if I could apply for another position on the campus? It was a very anxious time for me. And yet there, as it turned out, there was no need to be anxious because he was so good to me. And you know, that, right from the start, developed a bond between us that I, of course, would be loyal to anyone I worked for. I mean one of my first bosses in the telephone company said, “First job is always to protect your boss’s back.” [laughs] And it never became more necessary than as a president’s executive assistant for many different reasons. I don’t mean it to sound like it was a, you know, but that is one of the things that you do and you try to make their lives as easy as possible because it’s a very, very difficult job.
RUDOLPH: Stressful job. Job is stressful, even more so, perhaps.
RUDOLPH: In your position, you worked with several boards of trustees. Can you tell us a little bit about what the function of a board of trustee member is at Massasoit?
REARDON: Well, the boards of trustees—they’re all volunteers. They spend a lot of time—and people who come on to the board I think are amazed at how much of a commitment it truly is. They have the fiduciary responsibility for the college, and they take that role very seriously—basically the president is reporting to them. It’s an eleven-member board. Nine of those members are appointed by the Governor. One of those trustees has to be an alum. The other two are elected positions. The alumni-elect one, person to a five-year term, and the students elect each year a student representative, which comes up with the eleven. The boards, for the most part, meet monthly; usually in July there is a break. They can be called in at any time for a special meeting, and that certainly has happened through the years. They meet in two main committees: academic and student affairs and administration and finance, where they deal not only with presentations—I mean many months of presentation by a particular college, whether it be student life or an academic program—so that the members become quite familiar with what goes on at the school. They deal with Board actions, mostly those of a financial nature. They of course approve our budgets and spend a lot of time going over the budgets of the school. So, those are the two main committees. And then of course a full committee, which is required to make all final votes legal. They meet in open session always. And there has to be a quorum for the meeting to be a legitimate one. And they can meet in executive session, but open-meeting law dictates the reasons—there are like nine reasons where you can exclude people from the outside from sitting in. That did happen during different periods. It might have happened a little more often than others, but for the most part, not that often throughout the years. I attended every board meeting, and there were some evenings we were there quite late. But a tremendous commitment on their part, and not only do they participate in that, but many of them come to other events that are held at the school. I used to send a monthly calendar out to the trustees to let them know what was going on on campus so that they would be invited if they wanted to come and, frankly, a lot of them did. They became members of the college community, as sure as you and I were members of that community. Dedicated people and I think just a real asset to the college. There have been times through the years where there have been some real strong characters that have worked on the board—stamped their personalities on different things, but the bottom line with everyone that I dealt with, anyway, was their commitment to the school and to the students.
RUDOLPH: And to making it a better place.
REARDON: And to making it a better place, yes. And I know that sometimes it’s difficult for members of the college community if they have a project or they have something that they’re really dedicated to sometimes deal with people who are questioning them or perhaps aren’t as enthusiastic for their project as they might be for something else. And there have been times when things like that happen. But the bottom line of it, I think, is with all of us who work at Massasoit is that they made decisions based on what they thought was best for the school.
RUDOLPH: Okay, thank you. You were instrumental in the planning of a major fundraiser at Massasoit, and we’ve mentioned this earlier in the interview. The annual gala. Would you talk a little bit about what the gala is and when and how did it get its start?
REARDON: The gala became a real big thing in my life here. I did my first one the year following Bob Rose coming, and I believe it was ’98. And it was Carnival in Venice. I’ll never forget it. The entire conference center, which we had kind of really just taken over, it was transformed into the city of Venice. And we had vendors and we had entertainment that night and we had opera singers and etcetera. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t make a lot of money that first time around because we spent so much money on the food. But we did make some, and that was put into the general fund of the Foundation. When Dr. Rose left and Dr. Wall came, we thought the gala would probably go the way of Dr. Rose. Dr. Rose—I think coming from the South—he had a very different idea; he was very social. He loved big events and he loved these types of things and at that point, we didn’t know how Dr. Wall would go, but he decided that he wanted us to continue on with the galas. And he wanted me to chair it, which I was really not that happy about [laughs] to tell you the truth, knowing how much work they were.
RUDOLPH: They do a good job, Peg.
REARDON: I know. I must admit I was a little reluctant in taking that on because it is so time consuming. But we did and I can remember I put out a—it was our 40th—coming up on our 40th anniversary, and we wanted to have this big event. And I put out a call and said, You know, could we possibly get a committee together to help me out with this? And I can remember I walked into the Louison Board Room and there were like fifty people. I just couldn’t believe it. I was so overwhelmed and so thrilled. And it was a lot of fun. And people worked very hard and that was the year that we established our basket raffle. And God love them, the people worked so, so hard on that and contributed to those baskets. In the early days, the president’s office put all those baskets together. God love Terry Flaherty and Diane from Financial Aid and the three ladies that worked—Michelle and Elizabeth and Sandy—I mean we worked so hard putting those baskets together. And then we established the silent auction, and we did very well. In the early years of doing that, we made a lot of money. One year we made over $100,000 and that was the year that we did get a large contribution from Chris Tsaganis, who was our first honorary degree recipient and also from the Foundation in honor of the children—two children—two members of our extended community. One from the Foundation, Charlie Altieri and the other a Trustee, Ken Fortini, who had lost their sons under tragic circumstances that prior year. And a classroom was dedicated in Canton to the two of them and here on this campus to Chris Tsaganis The Tsaganis family. Charlie Tartaglia later gave us a large donation and we were able to dedicate a classroom in honor of his two children. So, people had been very generous. As time went on, as I had expressed earlier, Barbara and I went to Dr. Wall and asked him if we could change the tone. I mean, we had raised money for SMART classrooms in the B building and another one in Canton. And of course the classrooms that were named after specific people. But we asked him and he gave us permission to then establish the United Student Fund, and from there on all of the proceeds of the gala went to that. And this is part of what I think I talked about a little bit earlier. When we first started this, we didn’t have a lot of support coming from the community, again, because I was so familiar with Stonehill because my husband worked there, I went to—I believe you did too with your husband Tom—went to many of the presidents’ dinners over at Stonehill and I said, Gee why can’t we get this kind of—there would be seven and eight hundred people at those events, and it was, Why can’t we get that kind of support from the community for our school? And so we really started through the efforts of a lot of people, of course led by the president, but you know a lot of our senior administrators, members of the Foundation and members of the board of trustees to try to make those inroads and introductions, and as the years went on, we were able to, through the honorary degree program, to bring even more of those folks into the fold. And now we have a good, solid core of people and businesses that do support us. I think through future endeavors through the alumni society—and so many of our people have businesses—our alums have businesses in the area, inroads will be made to those people too in the future. But the galas in the last five to six years have been really successful in contributing to the United Student Fund, which keeps students on campus. The gala is also an opportunity for people from our college community to contribute, whether it be a small item like buying a raffle ticket or contributing to a basket or to bidding on something from the silent auction—it really is a college and external community event, and I think it’s also become a showcase for the college. The last Saturday in October now is much more than it used to be, a standing event on many businesses’ calendars. The unfortunate part—the only unfortunate part I see in it is that the $100 ticket for people to attend sometimes is just too exorbitant for our local people to be able to come. I have always just wanted to try to figure out a way to be able to include our community, our college community, so more could attend. We have had a lot of generous people who have donated tables, and we’ve brought students in and paid for the students because they should be part of this as well. And in recent years, we’ve done essay contests and art contests, where we were able to bring more students in. And obviously in the last, I think it’s four or five years, we’ve dealt with honoring students who have overcome difficulties, and they receive money and etcetera when they come. But I believe that the gala is an important event for many, many reasons.
RUDOLPH: Okay, thank you for that. Are there any questions that I haven’t asked you that you think you would like to talk about?
REARDON: Well, there was only one, and I think it relates to our upcoming 50th. One of my fondest memories—and I think many people’s fondest memories at Massasoit in all the years—was our 25th anniversary. And that was an event that was truly joyful. And I would love to see that repeated for this event as well. I mean this is a big one coming up, fifty years. But I think back to the things that we did and what we accomplished and how much fun—bottom line—we all had. We did so many different things. In the library, I was talking to Joanne and a number of people trying to even get the Massasoit statue from Utah, where I was shocked to find out that the Massasoit was in Utah—what was it doing there? But, you know, I believe there’s some thought afoot to try to get it again. But, we had just an incredible event that Kenn Anania kind of co-chaired, and we did a production—a Gilbert and Sullivan production of the Macado. And, frankly, I never had much to do with Gilbert and Sullivan prior to this, but one of our faculty members, Jane Oja who, believe it or not, was just honored as an honorary degree recipient this past year at the gala. She was incredible with her knowledge, and she offered to be the director for it. And I remember the day that we had the auditions and people came in that we had known at that point for years, never knew they could sing a note, and there was Kenn and Jane and myself and Michael Pevzner, who was the director of the theater and fine arts. And they would open their mouths to start singing and you would go, Oh my God. Where did these voices come from? I mean, just such incredible talent and Beth Morrell, who still is a teacher here, she had the female lead and Henry Camillo from the library was the male lead. God rest her soul, Pat Manfredi and T.P.—I mean, they were just incredible people. Ron Quelo. We ended up, we had over forty people in the cast, and between lights and marketing and all the rest of it, must have had another fifty-plus people that contributed. And Cathy Boudreau out there helping us with our makeup, and we put on, I think, a show for the ages. And we sold out for I believe it was two to three nights; I think it was two nights and like a Sunday afternoon. And the show was fabulous. And I would love at some point to have the tapes of that show shown again, perhaps during this 50th. But that was only one of the things. I mean we did so many others. We actually had the ball here at the then Christos II, and it was the Lou Colombo Orchestra that came in and it was like a 25-piece orchestra. We had over 600 people jammed into this place. It was incredible. Was not ours at that point, but we had such a wonderful time. And I think there are just so many opportunities now with the 50th coming up to not only celebrate what has gone in the past—because there are a lot of really wonderful things that happened—but to also look forward to the future as to what this college and its community can do for not only its students but the community at large, to really let people out there know what Massasoit stands for, who she is, and how we can help. I think, too, I find—and this is my age speaking now with my own kids—I mean I finally had started texting and all that stuff. I think in this new technological age, and even though it’s wonderful, I think we miss that interpersonal a lot between people. And instead of even talking on the phone now, we text. And instead of personal interactions, we email. And while, again, I just I celebrate all of that is, I hate to see us completely lose the other. And I think the 50th offers us an opportunity for our younger employees—and there are so many of them because so many of us oldsters have retired in the last five years—to not only appreciate what has gone on in the past to make us what we are but to celebrate where we can go in the future. But unless you have an institutional history and an institutional culture, it’s difficult for someone new coming in. And I think that the 50th truly offers us an opportunity to do a lot for those younger employees.
RUDOLPH: I think you’re right. Well, that’s great. That kind of wraps up with a really nice way—talking about the future. We’ve talked about the past, and now we’re talking about the future, which is really kind of nice. I want to thank you, Peg. It’s been a delight to sit here with and hear about your experiences and reminiscences of the college. Thank you.
REARDON: Thank you.
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