Linda Timm returns to Saint Mary’s to reprise role as vice president for student affairs
Maeve Filbin | Friday, January 24, 2020
Recently named interim vice president for student affairs Linda Timm describes the force that first drew her to Saint Mary’s 25 years ago — and enticed her to return twice since then — as a “glow.”
Timm first arrived at the College in 1995 to serve as vice president for student affairs. After 11 years of working closely with the student body, Timm left to become the President of Mount Mary College, now Mount Mary University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the years following, she returned to work in the Saint Mary’s Development Office. Timm retired in 2013, but is now back on campus filling her original position and rediscovering the “glow.”
“It’s the students,” Timm said. “It’s the environment here, it’s the spirit here. It’s hard to describe it. There is just a tug at my heart to come back.”
Though the decision to step back into her administrative role after having settled into retirement was made after careful deliberation, Timm said, the transition has not been difficult.
“I have to say, even though I’ve been out of student affairs for 11 years, 12 years, it’s just like riding a bike,” she said. “It really does come back and I’ve been kind of surprised at how quickly. Interestingly, there’s still such a great number of people here that I know. And so the transition in has been very easy.”
Timm grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended Illinois State University, from which she graduated with three degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in English.
“I was going to be what was then called a speech teacher for high school [students],” she said. “I had been an RA, and then had the opportunity to interview for a hall director position. Got that, and it sort of changed my whole trajectory. I never was a high school teacher after that. My whole career has been in higher education and student affairs and other administration kinds of positions.”
Timm came to Saint Mary’s for the first time after completing her doctorate. She moved to South Bend with her husband and children.
“As a family, we agreed that it was appropriate for [me] to look for a job that would let me do what I had been working so hard to achieve,” Timm said. “I spent 11 years as the vice president for student affairs here, which was just a wonderful experience.”
In 2003, Timm’s husband passed away, causing her to pause and examine her own life, she said.
“In the years that followed, it was determining ‘what do I want to do,’” Timm said. “I felt as though … the 11 years as vice president had prepared me to move on and possibly up, and received some very positive encouragement both from Carol Mooney, who was president at the time, and a couple of others who suggested that I consider looking at presidency.”
From there, Timm went on to become the president of Mount Mary University, where she filled the position for two years.
“Sometimes things don’t work out as you think,” Timm said, “And it ended up not being the best match for the two of us — the institution and myself — and that ended in fall of ’08. And so I was kind of sitting there thinking ‘okay, what’s next?’”
In the midst of seeking out her next step in life, Timm was invited to attend the dedication of Spes Unica Hall, a newly built academic building that had been developed while she was still in office at Saint Mary’s.
“I came down and everybody was so kind and saying ‘oh, welcome back, welcome home,’ as you hear on campus all the time,” Timm said. “And at the end of the day, I was walking back to my car and I just literally stopped in my tracks and thought ‘I need to get back here.’”
At the same time, Timm said she hesitated to leave the life she had built in Milwaukee.
“I have a wonderful group of friends there … and I didn’t want to leave that,” she said. “But somehow, I knew I had to connect back. So I waited 10 days to see if I still felt the glow. And I did.”
Timm said she approached current Vice President for College Relations Shari Rodriguez about returning to Saint Mary’s in some capacity, knowing that the board of trustees had recently approved the capital campaign, which would result in an increase in staff.
“I called Shari and said, ‘I have an idea. I would really like to come back and raise money for Saint Mary’s as part of the campaign, but I want to stay in Milwaukee,’” Timm said. ”At that time, we didn’t have anybody offsite … but she knew me well enough, I think, and said, ‘this could work.’”
For five years, Timm worked remotely from Milwaukee for the Development Office, before fulfilling the promise she had made to herself years before and retiring in 2013.
“I retired six years ago and have been living the life of a retiree,” Timm said. “And then, just before Thanksgiving, I received an email from Dr. [Nancy] Nekvasil. I had known Nancy from the first time I was [at Saint Mary’s], and she asked if I would consider coming back for a short period of time.”
Timm said she had known for some time that former Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Johnson would be retiring soon, and understood that the College would be hard-pressed to find a new interim vice president while also searching for the next president. Though she served many years in administrative positions at Saint Mary’s and spent time on the Madeleva Society, Timm said her initial response to Nekvasil’s request was shock.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “I mean this was a total out-of-the-blue kind of request and opportunity. And I wrote her back about five o’clock the next morning, I had thought about it and thought about it and tossed and turned around because as retirees do — I had a lot of plans already paid for, had friends coming, all kinds of things.”
Despite these plans, Timm said she was intrigued by the opportunity, and wrote back to Nekvasil saying she would have to spend some time offsite, but would agree to serve as interim vice president of student affairs.
“I think with technology and a little bit of creativity, we can make it work,” Timm said. “There is a month when I’m going to be away from campus. But I will be coming back for the board meeting. Being able to FaceTime in, call in, all of those things — and, quite frankly, there is a very strong student affairs staff here — it’s going to work. We’ll stay connected.”
Timm said she took copious notes during her three-hour long phone call with Karen Johnson, the former vice president who has since retired, in which they outlined the transition period. Since then, Timm said she has tried to give Johnson time to enter her own retirement.
“I think the most important part for [Johnson] — I know, having retired — is to leave her alone,” Timm said. “She needs to decompress from that time and know that she did a really good job here. When I retired, I took two weeks and went to Belize by myself, in this little hut that was on the beach, and I read lots of books, I did a little writing. I just put my toes in the sand and tried to decompress [from] 42 years of work.”
Timm said she will remain at Saint Mary’s as vice president for student affairs until June, and will live in Riedinger House through the spring semester.
“Once the president is announced, then things can move along with a little more intention,” she said.
Until then, Timm said she is happy to be back working in Le Mans Hall.
“I try to keep my door open, and it’s been fun to have students poke their head in and say, ‘Oh, I heard you were here. I want to introduce myself,’” Timm said. “That’s just Saint Mary’s. I mean that is so Saint Mary’s.”