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The ‘woman behind 3 presidents’ retiring from ECC

Retiring after 17 years as executive secretary ElgCommunity College's presidents Kathleen Stover poses with last three presidents she has served

Retiring after 17 years as the executive secretary to Elgin Community College's presidents, Kathleen Stover poses with the last of the three presidents she has served, David Sam. | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 19, 2014 6:17AM

ELGIN — “Behind every successful man there’s a woman,” Elgin Community College Trustee Art Sauceda says. “Behind (ECC President) David Sam there is Kathleen Stover.”

Actually, the board member could have added that Stover had been the woman behind two other ECC presidents, too. But not much longer. On Dec. 30, Stover, a 67-year-old South Elgin resident, will retire from her job as executive secretary to the president that she has held at the college since 1996.

Stover said she answered a newspaper ad for the secretary’s job because the opening combined skills from her previous work experience as an educator and a business administrator. After growing up in Lily Lake and graduating from Burlington Central High School, she had earned a teaching degree at Northern Illinois University, then taught five years in Oregon (the one in Illinois, not the one on the West Coast) while she pursued a master’s degree.

The next 12 years, she said, found her in Paris (the one in France, not the one in Illinois), doing office work for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an offshoot of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Finally returning to Illinois, Stover spent the next 10 years teaching in the adolescent psych ward at Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin. But seeing signs that her job was about to be downgraded to part-time, so she saw the ECC job advertised and applied for it, she said.

Stover worked for ECC President Roy Flores for two years, during a time of great tension on the board of trustees over whether to fire or keep Flores. When Flores left, she continued as secretary for eight years under Michael Shirley, who had been promoted from within the college’s administrative ranks, and then for another seven years under Sam, a native of Ghana who had been hired after a nationwide search.

“I’m glad I worked for Dr. Sam last, because he would be a tough act to follow,” Stover said. “He is so calm and easy to work with.”

Sam recalled that when he went to work for ECC in mid-winter 2007, he left an airport in Texas where it was a balmy 73 degrees and arrived at an O’Hare International Airport, where the temperature was in the single digits. “I began to question my sanity” about taking the Elgin job, he said. But he said Stover met him at the hotel registration desk and took him under her wing.

Through the subsequent years, Sam said, people frequently would phone the president’s office, demanding to speak with Dr. Sam immediately. But after talking through their problem with Stover, who had answered the phone, they would be calmed down and usually agree to be redirected to someone closer to their area of concern.

“Anytime I needed something or had a problem, my first inclination was to call Kathy,” longtime ECC Trustee John Duffy said.

Another board of trustees veteran, Clare Ollayos, said that “every once in awhile, if an idea sounded good in theory but was less fantastic in practice, she would quietly ask, ‘Have you considered this --?’ ”

Stover, who never married, said she has devoted most of the past year taking care of her ailing mother, who recently died. Now that she is retiring, Stover said, “I’ll do some remodeling around my home, do some traveling, and then find some useful volunteer work to do.”

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