Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lindenwood has a cycling team

"Students will have an opportunity to compete while being funded by the university"
Darren Marhanka, Lindenwood University.

"apart from the sports teams and the success of all of the programs there, from a business perspective, the turnaround story is one of the biggest of the century. I could write a book about my experiences there. I am changed forever by being a part of that campus community for that past 13 years. The place is down right magical for those who make it that way. I owe a lot to that place."
Ralph Pfremmer, Pfoodman.

In the late 1980's, under severe financial distress, one option for the board of directors was to sell the campus, yes the entire campus, to UMSL for a buck. They instead elected to hire Dennis Spellmann, a consultant and strategist for private academic institutions. He was a tough guy, hands down one of the most focused men I have ever met. It was his way or your exit. You listened and took your orders. You knew he was right. No need to for conflict. He sat behind a big wooden desk. In the early years he smoked cigars until his doc or his wife finally got him to quit. And Doc was what we called him too. Doc was as warm as it got.

He and his family began the long process of re-inventing the school based on the original heritage of the college, founded in 1827 by Mary Sibley. It was a girls school, a finishing school. Parents sent their daughters there to learn how to be ladies "a private school for girls that emphasizes training in cultural and social activities." My father in law said he got arrested for sneaking in to Cobbs hall in 1952, a night out prowl for the girls across the river from his dorm at Washington University. I think that is just terrible Ed, kids don't do that now.

As far as I am concerned, Spellmann and his team of loyal board, faculty and staff will go down in history as orchestrating one of the largest non-profit entrepreneurial endeavors in the region. Spellmann died last year and his influence remains there along side Mary Sibley the founder, others like Bob Hyland of KMOX, Ray Harman of Hasco International with the dedication and support of many people, mostly his loyal faculty and staff.

I started there as a cafeteria manger in late 1993 and was embraced by a group (faculty and staff) who were on board with Spellmann's ideology. The challenge was surely the balance of academic standards with that of the financial picture, which began to improve immediately under his guidance.

He was quick to remind everyone that this was not a state school, no funding related to operations were ever an option. He ran the place like a business, and implemented successful programs in an effort to reduce costs and enhance operations and academics. There was the student work study program, hands on programing training and work in the many departments at the school. There were many facility upgrades for growth, but only if he were to pay cash for the construction; there is "no-debt" at Lindenwood. My favorite program by far was the Pork for Tuition barter program. A deal we figured out that gave struggling farmers a way to pay for their kids tuition by bartering "on the hoof" pork for the value of processed pork normally purchased by my company, Pfoodman/Hospitality Services. Pork was processed in a USDA facility then shipped cooked and served in the cafeteria. The program gained national attention, covered on BBS, World News Tonight and national sindicated programs. PETA even claimed we were harboring pigs on the loading dock, ready for harvesting. I was quoted in the LA Times, the Chicago Sun Times and multiple publications throughout the US thanks to Doc and his genious public relations.

You can't help but like the place if it sneaks in to your life. Spellmann pretty much gave me a leg up and I am thankful in so many ways. Now under the direction of Dr. James Evans, a 30 year veteran of the school who succeeded Spellmann, the focus is on academic program standards and experience. He is the perfect fit for the next generation and I am happy to be a part of his team too. The campus just announced another 35 million dollar expansion on top of the 150 million that has already taken place since 1995. Over 3000 students live on campus now.

Take the time to check it out.

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