Maravene S. Loeschke ’69/’71, president emerita of Towson University died Thursday, June 25, 2015 of complications from cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 68.
“Our hearts are broken,” said Timothy J. L. Chandler, who became TU’s interim president when Loeschke retired last December due to illness. “Perhaps her greatest gifts to Towson were her warmth and her generosity. They reflected her dedication and love of students.”
Loeschke became Towson University’s 13th president in January 2012, carving an impressive legacy of innovative programs, diversity initiatives and administrative vision during her term. She was direct, organized and firm, yet always maintained personal connections with students, faculty, and state and local leaders.
“In her all-too-brief tenure as president of Towson University, Maravene Loeschke led the institution with purpose, dignity and compassion,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “Her focus on enhancing opportunities and experiences for students will be her lasting legacy and indelible mark. We applaud her for being such a valuable member of our community and we will miss her greatly.”
The Towson University Senate recognized her extraordinary commitment and bold initiatives, nominating her for president emerita. The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland concurred, bestowing the title earlier this month.
On June 13, Loeschke received the Audrey Herman Award for her work in expanding arts and theatre across Baltimore in an early presentation from Spotlighters Theatre.
The eldest of two children born to Joseph and Aumelia Sheppard, Loeschke grew up in the Baltimore County suburb of Parkville. She attended Parkville High School, where she said she fell in love with acting after being cast in the school’s production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
In 1965, Loeschke enrolled as an English and theatre major at what was then Towson State College. One of only 25 theatre majors in the college’s fledgling theatre department, she honed her skills under the direction of C. Richard Gillespie, the program’s founder.
When she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1969, Gillespie asked her to take a “temporary” teaching job in the department. The decision to remain at her alma mater launched a distinguished career as a teacher and, subsequently, as an administrator. She and Gillespie—whom she called “the love of my life”—married in 1981. (The two reprised their roles in “Love Letters” during the week of her Towson inauguration in September 2012.)
During her more than three decades at Towson, Loeschke rose to the rank of professor, chaired the Department of Theatre Arts, and served as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication from 1997 to 2002.
As chair of theatre and later dean of TU’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, Loeschke bridged the demands of higher education and the real world, said Juanita Rockwell, TU professor of theatre.
“If I or someone proposed something that worked but didn’t quite fit the confines of the academic world, she would squeeze it through as long as it benefited students,” Rockwell recalled.
Along the way, she earned a Master of Education degree from Towson University in 1971 and a doctorate from the Union Institute in Cincinnati.
She stayed active in the theatre, leading what she called “a glorious life” that included “teaching what I love [and] doing what I love.” In addition to performing many roles and acting in four one-woman shows, she wrote three books, a monograph, and numerous scholarly papers and articles.
In 2002, Loeschke left Towson to become provost at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. In her four years there, she shaped an undergraduate experience centered on mentorship, created the University Diversity Action Plan, reorganized the academic division into schools, initiated the development of learned outcomes assessments for academic programs, and increased funding for faculty development.
Four years later, she left Wilkes to become president of Mansfield University, where she oversaw the university’s first inclusive strategic plan and a budget dedicated to its goals. She reorganized the university’s administrative structure to achieve greater efficiency, strengthened the relationship between the university and the community, and brought greater focus to diversity and inclusion on campus.
In 2012 when she returned to Towson as president, succeeding Robert L. Caret, she needed no introduction.
She had come home to the Towson campus. Wherever she went, the well-known president was welcomed by well-wishers who wanted handshakes, smiles and her patented hugs.
Loeschke’s refrain—students, students, students—will always echo in the hallways and grounds of her alma mater.
Students were the hallmark of her leadership style. She could be found greeting new students and parents on move-in day, playing tambourine with the band at sporting events or traveling with the football team to the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas. But Loeschke was more than an institutional figurehead making obligatory rounds.
She was a mentor, generous with her time and talent when she was a teacher and professor.
“I had never had a teacher see such a spark in me that she would give her free time so that I might see that spark, too. I am forever grateful,” said Kate Danley ’97, a former student and now playwright, author and actress in Los Angeles.
As Towson’s president, Loeschke was constantly reminding everyone that student needs are the core of the university’s mission. “We want to develop leadership abilities, to have them graduate from Towson and make the world better because they are in it,” she said. But again, she delivered more than lip service—she gave of her time to help young adults maneuver the challenges and hurdles of being in charge.
“Maravene taught me that the most powerful asset you have, regardless of your experience or technical knowledge, is your relationship with people, “ said Matt Sikorski ’12, former Student Government Association president. “She treated everyone, be it the SGA president, an admin assistant or one of her VPs, exactly the same—with genuine interest, kindness and, above all, respect. She showed me what you can really do as a leader when you walk your path that way.”
Loeschke had a simple mission—she wanted each student to receive what she had some 40 years ago.
“Towson gave me a wonderful education, an education of the whole person that laid the foundation for anything I have ever done,” she said.
During her presidency, Loeschke appointed the university’s first presidential scholar, addressed Title IX issues in the Division I Athletics program, enhanced the joint UB-Towson MBA program, placed an emphasis on undergraduate research and civic engagement, and founded the new TU Professional Leadership Program for Women.
She marshaled private support for an International Flag Walkway and student art sculpture project.
She spurred collaborative efforts to develop institutional priorities to guide Towson’s development and showcase its greatest strengths. She focused on establishing Towson as a national model for innovation in teacher education, STEM, applied research, leadership development, diversity, the arts and athletics.
Among the capital projects completed during her presidency were the Institute for Well-Being, SECU Arena, Towson University in Northeastern Maryland, the West Village pedestrian bridge over Osler Drive, a new Health and Counseling Center, softball field improvements, a Burdick Hall addition and improved recreational fields.
“There is no one I admired more,” said Richard E. Vatz, TU professor of instructional leadership and professional development. “It is impossible to go through all of the accomplishments of this unique woman in the decades I knew her. The one quality that describes everything she achieved and stood for is integrity, and regarding that standard no one was her equal.”
When health problems forced her to take a leave of absence in August 2014, and then retire in December, she faced a road no one wants to travel with imagination and selflessness. Almost immediately, she organized a talent show at Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson where she lived, letting her neighbors take center stage.
Throughout her illness, she carried herself with grace and goodwill, sustaining her longstanding commitment to putting the needs of others ahead of her own.
“When Ben and I went to visit her early in May, she told us that she had talked with [Blakehurst] aides to find out where they were from and ordered online the flags of their countries,” said Myrna Cardin, chair of Towson’s Board of Visitors. “The flags were used as centerpieces in the dining room. She thought it would promote understanding and respect and make the aides feel more comfortable.
“I am so grateful that she asked me to be vice chair and then chair because that’s really how I got to know her and to see TU through her eyes,” Cardin added.
Ruth Drucker, a retired TU professor of music who was also matron of honor at Loeschke’s wedding, attests to her friend’s unwavering devotion to others, especially students.
“Mar wasn’t concerned about herself,” Drucker said. “She was full of plans and projects for Towson with constant concern for students. She stopped a car ride to the doctor to wave at the marching band, wanted to give the students ice cream, and attended TU events while she was able. When we went to restaurants she would ask the wait-person where they went to school. Whatever the answer, if they were a student, she would tip them extremely generously.”
Loeschke also sat on the board of directors of the University of Maryland St. Joseph’s Medical Center and the College Bound Foundation.
Loeschke is survived by her husband, C. Richard Gillespie, professor emeritus of theatre at Towson University. Other survivors include her first husband and friend Richard Loeschke; her sister, Ellen Sheppard Estes and her husband Dean Estes; three nephews, Michael Kazlauski, Bobby Kazlauski and Robert Estes; niece Deana Estes; and a host of extended family and close friends, whom she also considered family.
In honor of her life’s work, her family suggests memorial gifts to the following endowments: President Maravene Loeschke Leadership Endowment Scholarship; C.R. Gillespie and Maravene S. Loeschke Scholarship Endowment; and Towson UTeach.
Details regarding the memorial service to be held at Towson University in the fall will follow.