The view from Dr. Kay Keck’s office is a view one might expect from the office of a vice president.
On the third floor of Kellogg Community College’s Roll Health and Administration Building, an entire wall consists of windows overlooking the north side of campus: the main campus parking lots, the Miller Gym and soccer field and a scenic view of the College’s beautiful Spring Lake, surrounded by the Linear Park pathway.
But it’s a view that Keck, who retires this summer as KCC’s Vice President for Student and Community Services, has earned over the course of more than 45 years of service at the College.
“A lifetime,” as Keck puts it.
Campus when she started at KCC – as a secretary in 1978 – was much different. For one thing, the building she works in today wouldn’t even exist until the following year.
“It was a gorgeous area of stairs going down and trees and such,” Keck says today. “I remember our homecoming court had pictures taken there, and they were just absolutely gorgeous.”
A Battle Creek native who grew up in the Orchard Park area just north of campus, Keck had never even been to KCC until her senior year at Battle Creek Central High School (though she remembers watching construction of the Davidson Visual and Performing Arts Center while biking with a friend in junior high).
She started school at KCC after high school graduation in 1976 as part of an Executive Secretarial Program working toward an Associate of Applied Commerce degree, and thanks to a strong high school program was able to test out of enough college classes that she finished her degree in a year and a half.
Keck was a student assistant in the Engineering Technology Department at KCC when she finished her degree in December 1977, and had a full-time job lined up as secretary to the deans by the following March – nearly two months before she would formally walk in commencement.
Since that time she’s held nine official titles at KCC, advancing from secretarial support staff positions up through administrative positions in financial aid to becoming Registrar in 1999. She served as Dean of Enrollment Management from 2007 to 2010 when she became Vice President for Student Services, before assuming her current role in 2015.
She’s served under all seven presidents in the College’s history.
Along the way Keck has accumulated additional degrees, including a bachelor’s in Human Resources Management from Spring Arbor, a master’s in Administration from Central Michigan and a Ph.D. in Higher Ed Leadership from Western.
The view hasn’t always been as rosy as her current one. Keck remembers years without an office, of sharing desks with other coworkers. At one point she even had an office without electricity.
“I had a solar-powered calculator, and they had high windows up there,” she remembers today, laughing. “I knew by 10 a.m. I could use my solar-powered calculator because I could get the sun.”
There were also interesting interpersonal dynamics associated with her transitions over the years. She’d been at the College more than 20 years when she became Registrar, for example, and there were some coworkers who still saw her as support staff.
Keck still remembers the somewhat surreal experience of becoming a key player in meetings she’d once taken the minutes for as a secretary.
“So I’m sitting on Academic Cabinet, a group that I used to take the minutes for, and there were a chairperson and a dean who had changed out so they didn’t know that I’d been support staff,” she says. “And it’s a good thing I paid attention, because they actually asked my professional opinion. And no one had ever done that before, and I had an answer for them. I will never forget that moment.”
Looking back on more than 45 years has been a little bit emotional, Keck says today. There are peers at the College she’s worked with for decades. One is a former financial aid student. One she remembers as a student assistant, still thinking of her by her maiden name. There are several who worked side by side with her as she rose through her various positions at KCC, who she sees as instrumental to the many initiatives she’s been able to accomplish over the years.
Some of her favorite memories of KCC surround these people and the challenges they’ve addressed together as a team over the years. These notably include the recent pandemic, which involved the execution of the College’s first and only outdoor drive-thru commencement ceremony, an event Keck says was a fantastic “classic, dynamic and impassioned” celebration of the graduates.
Keck, who still lives in Battle Creek, has a lot to fill her time after retirement, including spending time with her husband and daughter – both also KCC alumni – and son-in-law and three grandchildren.
It’s a lot to look forward to, which is the best kind of view.
“The journey cannot be about you,” Keck says, reflecting. “It has to be about the intrinsic value of what you’re doing. Once you start doing that and setting yourself aside, I think the rest of it just starts coming along.”
This article first appeared in the June 2023 edition of BruIN magazine. To read the issue online, please visit kellogg.edu/bruinmagazine.