Late dean leaves legacy as leader, champion for students.
Story by Rebecca Svec
In the last months of Janice Hadfield’s life, Deb Savage visited her nearly every day.
Janice, the dean of Doane’s College of Professional Studies, had hired Deb to direct its nursing program and the two bonded immediately. Janice convinced Deb she had the talent needed for the role and became her teacher and mentor. She encouraged Deb to begin classes toward Doane’s Education Specialist degree.
When Deb and her family lost everything in a devastating house fire in 2012, it was Janice who helped her through.
“That lady was my rock,” Deb says, emphatically.
Janice completed an accreditation report for Deb so that she could concentrate on rebuilding. Deb’s son Matt spent a lot of time with the Hadfields and considered Janice and her husband Larry as his adopted grandparents.
Last spring, Deb realized something that hadn’t occurred to her before. Calls and emails for Janice were coming in from across the state. People thanked Janice for the difference she made in their lives. Janice had been like a grandmother to their children, they said.
For a fleeting moment, Deb felt something between jealousy and admiration.
“I remember thinking ‘But I thought I was your special one,’” Deb says, laughing quietly at the memory.
Janice was a master of making people—students above all—feel singular and exceptional.
To her, they were all special.
Doane met Janice in 1986. Thirty years later, in July of 2016 at age 72, the university lost her, following a decline that began with a slip on ice, then rehabilitation and pneumonia.
She will be remembered as “one of the greatest administrators in the history of Doane.”
“She took a program that was important to the college from a relative handful of students to, at one point, more than 2,000 students enrolled,” says President Emeritus Fred Brown ’59, who worked with Janice for his entire presidency (1987-2005). “She moved the campus physically. She added new campuses.”
Doane would not be what it is today if Janice hadn’t taken ahold of it.
“She turned it loose,” Fred says.
On her unfailing watch, what began as a “bold experiment” doubled the college’s student population and expanded Doane from an undergraduate liberal arts college into a university, encompassing three adult learner campuses, 12 undergraduate programs for nontraditional students, master’s degrees in Counseling and Administration and even online programs. In the same time period, the Education Department added its master of education degrees, Education Specialist degree and a doctoral degree.
After her passing, coworkers and students shared memories of Janice, who was simultaneously a fixture of the university’s history and a relentless voice for its future. Her success, they said, came from her leadership and the culture she created for adult learners.
When President Emeritus Phil Heckman hired Janice, she brought experience educating the adult learner population that was just being recognized as a target group in the Midwest. These were learners who had veered from the path that linked high school graduation with enrollment on a residential campus designed for 18- to 23-year-old students: They were students who married and started families. They entered the workforce or the military. They traveled.
They had a degree but wanted another. They lost jobs and wanted education to turn their life in a new direction.
“Nontraditional students are engineers, nurses, secretaries, CEOs, production-line workers, teachers, parking lot attendants, dog walkers and exotic dancers,” Janice wrote in “Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners,” a journal article. “They are immigrants, displaced homemakers, professionals changing careers, individuals seeking personal growth and development, grandparents, single parents and married couples....”
Neglecting to see and meet the needs of this kind of student was her definition of failure.
“She saw where the market was going and kept adding nuances,” Fred says. “She met student needs in ways nobody else in the Lincoln area was doing.”
Janice wanted so much more than students’ credit hours. When students walked through the doors she wanted them to feel like they’d stumbled upon an educational oasis, where someone was waiting to help them.
She wanted them to succeed, transition, gain confidence and self-awareness, and knock on doors they hadn’t approached before. She believed the time the busy adult students gave to their degrees was as precious a resource as their money.
“She was a servant. That’s one of my words for her. She was always asking ‘What can I do to serve you?’” Deb says.
No one interviewed chose the same word to characterize Janice, describing her as everything from loving and humorous to poised, entrepreneurial, civic leader, dynamic and direct.
Fred knew immediately that Janice could run Doane’s fledgling campus in Lincoln.
Janice held a bachelor’s from the University of Memphis and a master’s in human relations from the University of Oklahoma. While her husband was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in the early 1980s in Omaha, she worked for the University of Oklahoma, helping it establish an adult learning campus at Offutt.
Fred returned to his alma mater from a provost position at Buena Vista University, where he helped start and teach some of its programs for adult learners.
The shared knowledge of adult learning made for a strong bond between Doane’s 10th president and Janice. She was comfortable speaking freely to him. The remarkable thing, in his eyes, was that no matter the answer or task, she accepted it with a positive spirit.
“‘We’ll do it. We’ll take care of it,’ she’d say,” Fred says. “When she left the office, she was already on the case.”
An equally important talent, in his opinion, was her ability to win buy-in. “She could command somehow—by her enthusiasm and insistence—that we meet (student) needs, and other people bought in,” Fred says. New hires caught her spirit of service. Doubters faced her energy and determination.
Her perseverance paid off time and time again.
For much of her career, Pappy Khouri ’70, (former Treasurer and vice president of finance) was in charge of facilities. Janice would tell Pappy she needed more space. He’d voice concerns about paying for the increased rent. “She’d respond that if she had the space, she could fill it with students, but she couldn’t get more students without the space.”
“She won those battles, all the way to buying the whole building,” Fred says, chuckling.
When Janice recruited students and reached out to community leaders, she was just as effective at persuading them that Doane needed them and they needed Doane.
Jim Mastera ’87L, ’96A earned his undergraduate degree from the Lincoln campus when it was still housed in the Selection Research facility. Jim was in the middle of a 42-year career with Cornhusker Bank, where he eventually retired as executive vice president. He earned his bachelor’s at Doane to finish a college education he had started long before.
Soon after, Janice convinced Jim to make a presentation to the college’s Board of Trustees on the need to add master’s programs.
“I don’t claim any responsibility,” Jim says, “but about four years later, the master’s program did begin.”
Janice then convinced him to enroll in the new Master of Arts in Administration program, which she led as its dean. He really wasn’t that interested, he explained, already established in a successful career.
“She told me ‘You will stop by my office and register. We need a small pilot program and you are in it,’” Jim says.
If it sounds forward, that’s because it was. Janice was direct and straight, particularly with people she trusted. Jim listened to her promise of what the program would be and he registered. The liberal arts core that runs through all programs “…changed my life because of how I think about and see things.”
He kept ties with Doane for many years, returning to its classrooms to share his real-world knowledge of business and finance, but Janice wasn’t done persuading.
“She called me one day and said, ‘I need to get the word out about the campus and you are in the Downtown Rotary Club. I want to speak to your club,’” Jim says.
She shared Doane’s message eloquently to the room of about 150 community leaders, Jim recalls. “Many of us get tunnel vision, but hers was broad and above all, future oriented.”
It would have been easy for Janice to rest on laurels. By 2005 the Lincoln campus served 1,000 undergraduates and an additional 2,500 graduate students each year (including students from the Education Department). A second adult learner campus opened in Grand Island in 2003. Other four-year colleges were trying to replicate Doane’s success and internal student satisfaction surveys gave “astonishingly high approval ratings” Donald Ziegler ’50 wrote in his book “Doane College in Lincoln: The First 20 Years.”
Feedback praised Doane’s support for students, even after they graduated. Learners genuinely felt they mattered because Janice and her staff were genuine, said Lynn Willey, who earned a bachelor’s in business administration at Doane’s Lincoln campus in 1991.
While looking through old photos recently one college picture stood out to Lynn. Janice was hugging her on stage after she’d received an academic award.
“You can see the emotion in it. Janice gave me this big heartfelt hug,” Lynn says.
Lynn had come to campus with tentative steps, not fully believing she could earn a degree while raising a family and working full time. Janice made her believe in herself and the program, and she has worked in Lincoln for Southeast Community College as a placement specialist for the last 21 years thanks to her education at Doane.
“Without the degree, I would not be in the position I have today,” Lynn says.
Doane’s Fall 2016 census counts a combined 862 full- and part-time students enrolled in the adult learner undergraduate and graduate programs in Counseling and Management. Students are now enrolled at one of Doane’s three satellite campuses in Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha, which opened in 2014.
Lincoln Campus Director Angie Klasek ’81, ’95A is a constant in that growth, from the first class of seven to the current term. She was the campus administrative assistant when Doane selected Janice as the new dean, and she still remembers the excitement she felt when she heard Janice speak about how adult students should be treated, the right way to deliver instruction and the importance of selecting faculty who were practitioners in their field. It so perfectly matched her own feelings and the intent of the Lincoln campus, it felt like two puzzle pieces clicking together.
“She looked at me and said, ‘We get to work together? This is unbelievable,’” Angie says.
Her hire was a clear turning point, Angie says. The Lincoln campus was established and growing, but with Janice on board the goal became broader than enrollment numbers.
“We truly wanted to have the edge,” Angie says.
In that hire, Doane gained a person of vision and “students gained their biggest advocate,” Angie says. The loss of Janice was as much personal as professional for her.
“Getting the opportunity to have the person you work with every day be one of your best friends, be an amazing mentor and work partner is unbelievable.”
In a way, the staff began mourning Janice’s absence before her loss. It began while she was away from campus for rehabilitation, recalled Kerry Fina, coordinator of the Doane Core for the College of Professional Studies and assistant professor of practice in liberal arts studies.
They missed their leader, with her open door and patient, ready advice. Janice shaped them and cared about their growth as an employee and a person, said Kerry, who first met her as a Lincoln campus student.
He did not know how much he would learn from her in the future.
“Janice would tell it like it is, but the wonderful thing about Janice was, she’d say ‘Here’s the problem. Let’s fix it,’” Kerry says. “When it was done, that was the end of it. She was a great mentor who talked me through my mistakes and my decision-making process.”
She set the bar for work ethic sky-high, still working 60-hour weeks right before her accident. It took time to answer staff questions and student concerns, and she gave people her full attention, a means of giving and getting respect and trust. She was also a “research junkie,” Kerry said, addicted to learning about the latest trends in education.
In the last years of her career, she continued to add new programs and majors and tweaked existing programs to make sure they reflected the world outside of academia.
Kerry’s word for Janice is: “loving.” She was a mother and grandmother and it showed in the basket of chocolate on her desk for students; in the way she welcomed babies and children visiting the campus.
“She was one of two leaders I’ve known in my life who specifically said ‘I love you’ to the people on the team around her and she meant it. It was sincere and authentic,” Kerry says. “She would say things like ‘Kerry, you and I can say anything we want to each other. I depend on you and count on you. This is a safe space.’”
She loved them like family, he said, even choosing her rehabilitation facility based on its proximity to the Lincoln campus. Rehabilitation staff teased her about her lack of hobbies and recreational activities.
She told them what she often told her coworkers: “Working at Doane is my fun.”