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Lili Kivisto, now retired after 36 years at U-M, shared this story about how she and her friend Mary Ann Steffens partnered in planning a workshop for administrative professionals that became an annual conference.

In 1977 my friend Mary Ann Steffens and I developed a workshop on information finding for the Human Resources Department called The Secretary as a Resource Person.

HRD assistant Lillian Harrison had developed a program that traded free HRD courses for a course developed and taught by volunteers. Mary Ann worked in the reference department and I had worked in the library and we both wanted to take some communication and office procedure courses, so this seemed like a good exchange.

Several months later over lunch I told Mary Ann about an article I had read on office automation. We both wanted to explore the topic further and went to talk HRD coordinator Bernadette Malinowski about developing a workshop on this topic.

“That’s not a workshop,” she told us, “That’s a conference.”

Bernadette introduced us to J. Down Herrold, head of the Conferences and Extension unit, and Conferences and HRD agreed to co-sponsor a conference at the Michigan League on The Office of the Future in May 1978.

Neither Mary Ann nor I had experience in event planning, but we quickly developed a framework for a professional development day that included a keynote address and two additional workshop sessions.

I recruited Professor Alfred Meyer from Political Science (the department in which I worked at the time). Al was a tremendously gifted and humorous speaker who was sure to hold an audience’s attention. Other popular topics such as Professor John Chamberlin discussing computers and an English teacher on space-age communication were also presented.

I developed and presented a workshop on changing patterns in office administration and Mary Ann chaired a panel of three secretaries reflecting on how these topics might affect their own environment.

A huge success!

The conference was a sensation.

Understand that at that time (late 1970s) lower-level administrative personnel were rarely sent to conferences which usually were held off campus and typically were extremely expensive. With its $75 cost and on campus location, whole offices managed to attend and the event soon attracted over 200 participants. Registration fees covered all costs and left a surplus, so the Conference unit and HRD had no hesitation on sponsoring another event the following year.

For the second event, a team of volunteers from across campus and from Washtenaw Community College worked on developing a conference on the Office of the Future: The Human Side. Topics included personal finance, balancing work life and family commitments, career development, intercultural communications, dealing with difficult people and handling stress.

A new event for the millennium

Following that event, the conference became a regular series, culminating in 2000 in the Millennium Conference. The conference became so popular that it was repeated twice, and participants attended events at the Michigan League, Rackham and the Frieze building.

Each year, participants looked forward to meeting friends from across campus. Planners worked hard to develop topics of interest to both women and men, clerical workers and managers.

Unfortunately, Mary Ann was only active in planning the first two conferences. In December of the third year, she developed pancreatic cancer and died before the third conference. But I saw her spirit live in all the volunteers who worked so hard each year and wanted as, Mary Ann said, “to be a part of that.”

For 20 years I was fortunate to be part of the planning team—sacrificing many noon hours to rate past speakers, encourage inspiring presenters to come again, and finding new topics and presenters. The conference originated the annual Workplace award to recognize both outstanding individuals and teams for their achievements, contributions and ability to empower others.

Barb Hemmi, Betty Cotner, Jane Hansen, past participants, planners and retirees inspired Lili to submit this piece.