Celebrate Marty Jennings ’67
A Fond Farewell to an Olivet Icon
Recently, as Marty (Mason) Jennings ’67 prepared for Homecoming, her office floor was starting to disappear under small mountains of swag, event programs, plaques and miscellany. To the many people who know her, it’s a familiar sight at Olivet College at that time of year.
Marty, who plans to retire in November after her 15th year as director of alumni engagement, pours her sweat and tears into ensuring that Homecoming, the pinnacle alumni event of the year, goes off without a hitch.
Even though she is busy, she takes a moment to reflect on what is to come. Soon, she will be relocating to Minneapolis and living in the same city as her two sons and seven grandchildren for the first time. “Leaving Olivet is bittersweet, but I am glad my focus will be on my family and being part of their lives,” Marty said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with them, taking art classes and connecting with old friends in the area.”
Marty, a 1967 alumna and one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award honorees, says she will miss Olivet for certain. But the thousands of alumni, faculty and students she has connected with over the years will miss her even more. To them, she is the glue that keeps the OC family together.
A LIFELONG LOVE
Marty came to Olivet from her home state of Pennsylvania in 1963, and like so many OC alumni, she treasured her experience. She studied fine art and took part in the renowned Nez Perce printmaking studio founded by former artist-in-residence Stephen Hazel. And, she especially loved Professor Art Stevens’ Western Civilization class, which he instructed downtown in the local theater. “I loved the way he taught,” Marty said. “Everything about his lectures was interesting, and we appreciated getting to walk downtown en masse – the entire freshman class – for our Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday classes.” She enjoys catching up with Professor Stevens, who is now 97 and still lives in Olivet with his wife, Charlotte.
Greek life was also a pillar of Marty’ experience at Olivet. As a Soronian, she befriended many of the alumnae she calls her dearest friends today. Sandy (Charles) Grimaldi ’67 recalls their lifelong friendship beginning in the “dormettes” behind Dole Hall. “We bonded quickly because of the fact we were products of the ’50s, filled with a great deal of naiveté, experiencing life on our own for the first time,” she said. “And, there was strength in numbers. Many of that group became sorority sisters and lifelong friends.”
To this day, Marty plans annual get-togethers attended by a dozen or more Soronians from the ’60s. From road trips to Saugatuck and Shipshewana, to golf outings in Watervliet and beyond, they never pass up the chance to share a weekend of laughs and reminiscing about their OC days.
“Marty is the glue that holds all of the Soronian sisters of our era together,” Sandy said. “She is in touch constantly and has organized awesome getaways for almost 50 years – now that takes real love and dedication.”
To this particular group of friends, it’s no surprise that Marty is the catalyst for keeping everyone connected. It’s just part of her fabric, and one of the many reasons she has been an exceptional alumni director for the college. “I met Marty at Soronian in 1963; even then she was studying o
ld yearbooks and learning about past alums,” said Soronian sister Pam (Bankerd) Snarey ’66. “Who knew how valuable it would become.”
Getting to know alumni, their stories and histories, families and relationships, is what Marty says she has enjoyed most about her years at Olivet. The milestones that have marked her career are vast, and the stories countless. She has enjoyed reuniting about 50 members of the 1974 MIAA championship football team during several Homecomings over the years, and she has reconnected the college with alumni from as far away as Gambia and Japan. She has witnessed multiple generations of Shipherds, the college’s founding family, convene at one time on campus. And she has been a sounding board for alumni of all decades, during the college’s best and most challenging times.
To the Olivet College family, Marty is the “rock.” And in many ways, the feeling is mutual. In November 2013, her career was interrupted for a five-month period when she was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer affecting her head and neck. Her illness required extensive surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and months of grueling recovery.
Too ill to travel back and forth to Michigan, Marty decided to move into an apartment near the medical center. “It was one of the scariest and most difficult times of my life,” she said. “But I was surrounded by support from family, alumni and friends from Olivet. I can’t believe the outpouring of support I received in Houston.”
Between friends and family members who sent cards, raised money for medical expenses, visited and cared for her, Marty never had to go through the healing process alone. Although those times were hard, they are a true testament to what she means to people, and the kinds of relationships that are formed at Olivet. “I’m so thankful for the kindness I was shown from so many during that time,” she said.
One special visitor, Gerald Dozie ’07, traveled from Oklahoma where he was living at the time, to stay with Marty. For him, making the trip wasn’t even a question. “Going to Houston was really important to me,” Gerald said. “It helped me understand more closely what Marty was going through and gave me a chance to do something positive. Some days we just sat and talked or said nothing at all. It was all powerful for me – I grew more amazement and admiration for Marty. The strength she showed was unbelievable. I knew she was amazing before, but this made me very proud of her.”
Marty met Gerald in 2005 when he was a first-year transfer student on campus. A group of employees were cleaning up after an event, and he offered to help carry some boxes for them. “I remember how polite he was, how he offered to help without being asked,” Marty said.
She soon learned that the 6’8” basketball player had come to Olivet College from Detroit, where he had been staying with friends and various relatives until he finished high school. Having lost both parents by the age of 12, Gerald had a difficult upbringing. One of six children, he was the first in his family to finish high school and the only one to earn a college degree.
Recognizing that Gerald did not have the same opportunities as most college students, Marty decided she was going to be his parental figure at Olivet. “There are so many people in the world who need help, but sometimes all you can do is help one person,” she said. “I wanted to help Gerald.”
She kept an eye on Gerald, making sure he had essentials like groceries and books, spending Thanksgiving together and “getting after him” to be on time for class. Today, she considers him a son. Gerald is now a 7th grade teacher in Phoenix. “He likes helping kids,” Marty said, “probably because of all he has been through.”
“Marty has impacted my life in many ways,” Gerald said. “She is my motivation and encourages me when things get tough. I love her with all my heart.”
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
It’s relationships like these that have made Marty so important to Olivet College. Whether we define home as a specific location, the memories made during a certain period of time, or the ones we call “family,” home is a place where we belong. To Marty, Olivet College will always be home.
She has touched countless lives during her years as alumni director, and will continue to do so – only this time, she’ll get to enjoy just being an alumna.
“Olivet will always be part of my life. I’ll still plan get-togethers for the Soronians and I’ll come back for Homecomings,” she said. “I have had a wonderful career.”
— Molly (Reed) Goaley ’05