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Ask any Comet you come across, “What makes Olivet College so special?” and you’re bound to get an answer that includes the people. For nearly 175 years, OC has prided itself on who it includes, not who it excludes, creating a campus of diversity. Students, staff and faculty of different cultures, religions, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses create one OC Nation. With such diversity, a deeper understanding, respect and broad global perspective are created.

Two Comets who exemplify the true meaning of being a member of the Olivet College family are Mike ’75 and Judy Fales. They embrace diversity and service learning to the highest potential. Recently, the couple celebrated their 25-year OC work anniversary since joining the staff in 1992. Currently, Mike serves as assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion and director of service learning and campus ministries, while Judy is director of Burrage Library.

“I have always felt that Olivet College is a special place,” Mike explained. “I think God created OC for a unique purpose – a place where diversity is embraced and a greater understanding is created. What continues to make Olivet special is that there are so many people who are willing to devote their life’s work to educating students and ensuring the growth of the institution.”

Mike and Judy with their eldest son, Doug, in 1992.

As a student in the 1970s, Mike originally came to OC to study secondary education. He was recruited to the debate team and immersed himself in campus life as a member of the College Choir, Adelphic Alpha Pi fraternity and many other clubs and organizations. After graduating in 1975, Mike launched a 16-year career in the hotel industry, leading him to the east coast.

While working in Washington, D.C., a mutual friend introduced Mike to a plucky, southern girl from Georgia. Judy had graduated from the University of Georgia in 1976 with a degree in journalism, and pursued a career in politics leading her to the capital as well. Thirty years later, the couple has raised three children and built a successful, happy life together – neither would have it any other way.

“I still remember the first time I met Mike. We went to a stage play at a small arena and a party after,” Judy said. “From there, we fell in love and moved to North Carolina for Mike’s job. It was there we were married and had our first son, Doug. I always knew Mike wanted to return to Michigan, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so soon. It ended up being a wonderful place to raise our children and call home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.”

Initially, Mike served as the director of the annual fund and director of alumni engagement, utilizing his network of Comets that he built as a student. In 2007, he was officially named to the teaching faculty, and has since taught self and community, religion courses and seminars, and regularly leads cultural immersion and service learning trips. Retirement is nowhere in sight for Mike, and his goal is to continue teaching at least until he’s 70.

Judy arrived on campus a few months after Mike, but sent her resume ahead to the personal director. She remembers unpacking boxes with her hair messily gathered out of her face when she received a call for an immediate interview. To her surprise, Judy met with Gretchen Kreuter, the college’s first female president, and landed the position as her secretary. Judy fulfilled a variety of secretarial roles for the college until 2009, when she took on a new role as library assistant. In 2014, Judy completed her Master of Library Science and was promoted to serve as library director.

“The two big reasons I love working at Olivet are because it’s fun and because of the people I get to meet,” Judy explained. “We have the Greeks over during pledging, make it a point to attend athletic events, and get to know students through their time in Mike’s classes and the library. At Olivet, you feel as though you can really make an impact – an opportunity that would never be afforded at larger universities. Giving, whether it be our time or money, you can almost see the difference right in front of you.”

Photo taken by junior Brian Freiberger, editor of the Echo and member of the football team, during a travel learning course in Costa Rica.

Mike couldn’t agree more. While he never thought he’d end up working as a college professor – or loving his job so much – his goal is to help students study history and theology in a way that allows them to form an understanding of culture and the past, and use that knowledge to create a better future. “I really love what I do, and I can’t imagine not doing what I do,” Mike said. “If I had to, I would do my job for free. I’m not looking forward to my retirement at all. It’s really fun to love what you do and miss it when you’re not. That’s something I hope I can teach students as well.”

This month, Judy tagged along in one of Mike’s classrooms as they traveled to Costa Rica for a special global diversity class. The group studied local culture, history and religion of indigenous people, with a unique focus on sustainable agriculture in the developing world, and students even performed service, saw a rainforest and white-water rafted while they were there. Judy could barely contain her excitement, both for the new experiences and relationships she built with the students.

The list of service trips and projects Mike has lead is nearly infinite – building houses in Jamaica, hurricane relief in New Orleans, fighting hunger at the International Heifer Ranch in Arkansas, preserving Michigan history in Port Austin, and the list goes on and on. As stated by the founding fathers, Olivet College strives to teach students the divine art and science of doing good to others. Mike is guided by the mission every day.

Mike and Judy agree, Olivet College is their home, but it’s the people who call themselves Comets who truly make the college special paired with the opportunities to give back.

To learn more about majors and programs, campus life, travel opportunities and service learning, contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu. Check out the Admissions Events Calendar for special upcoming opportunities to see campus for yourself – and request to speak with Mike or stop by the library to meet Judy!

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