An Enduring Third Act

Nancy Bates talking with a group of women

Nancy Bates

In the later act of her career, Nancy Bates has become something of a magician. After spending less than 24 hours retired in 2001, she returned to work. "I had worked for almost 48 years. I couldn't just quit cold turkey," she says.

Nancy was 68 at the time and gliding toward what, for many, would be retirement.

Would the Nancy of 1953-having just accepted a secretary position-ever imagine herself still working in 2014?

"Oh, no. I don't think I was thinking that far ahead," she says, smiling.

The cold turkey method proved ineffective: Nancy has continued to work at U-M for 61 years.

In 1953, Nancy, having recently attended Hillsdale College, moved to Ann Arbor with her husband. During this time she worked as an administrative secretary for the Fresh Air Camp-a multidisciplinary center for boys with behavioral issues. For 15 years Nancy worked for the camp, eventually managing budgets and registering students. Throughout this time Nancy met students and staff affiliated with U-M's Psychology Department, whose key administrator eventually offered her a job.

A Department in Transit

Nancy transitioned to the Psychology Department in 1969. She began in clinical psychology, managing their public health grants.

Ten years later, Nancy became the key administrator-a position she would hold until 2001.

Throughout the department's three-year move to East Hall, Nancy-ever the tranquil presence-brought her coworkers flowers from her garden. These roses and dahlias, she claims, helped soothe both she and coworkers during the stressful time. She was the department's main LSA contact, an essential role, requiring her to ensure a timely, orderly move. This, however, was quite a challenge.

East Hall at this time was a frontier. The building was largely unused and had become, for several homeless people, an impromptu shelter. It also posed some structural challenges: There was an electrical fire and a flood.

"There was an overflow from the storm sewer and it came into the basement of East Hall. We had about four feet of water in the basement, after we had already installed carpet," says Nancy.

Nancy's incisiveness and management skills are not to be ignored. They make her an inimitable employee with admiring coworkers.

Remembering their time spent as colleagues, psychology professor emeritus, Melvin Manis, says, "I've been retired for more than 12 years now, but I still remember Nancy as a smiling, helpful, competent colleague. When I occasionally see her on campus these days, I always get a friendly greeting, and sometimes a hug."

Nancy trains her underlings with the scrupulous attention a sculptor pays her clay. She did this with Maureen Lopez.

Maureen began her career as a work-study for Nancy in 1979; during their time together, Nancy showed Maureen how to effectively manage a group of people. "Everything I learned about management I learned from Nancy," says Maureen.

Though Maureen now lives in Texas-where she is an administrative associate for the University of Texas-she and Nancy remain in contact.

Carol Richard worked with Nancy in the psychology office, and of their time together she says, "I worked for the University as a temp and full time employee for over twenty years and even though I've met and worked with some amazing people, both staff and faculty, Nancy Bates, without a doubt, made the greatest impression on me."

Working with such rhapsodic coworkers, it's no surprise Nancy found retirement unappealing.

The 24-Hour Retirement

Nancy's retirement was basically an evening. All those perfunctory retirement images of beach walks and golf courses? She wanted none of them-she was back at work the next day looking for part-time employment.

She found it in a variety of locations.

This is where Nancy's malleability is utilized. She's covered administrative vacancies in over 30 units, including: physics, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Judaic Studies, economics, and Asian Languages and Cultures.

At her home, "in the country," as she describes it, Nancy kennels 23 dogs (20 Labradors, three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels). Her daughter Allison, a lawyer, started the kennel, and its population is in constant flux. "Dogs come and dogs go," says Nancy.

Though this canine abundance might seem overwhelming to some, Nancy approaches it with the same focused enthusiasm she does the rest of her life. It's why her coworkers remember her. It's why she's cherished.

"We pick our friends in our lives-but if I could have picked a parent, it would be Nancy Bates," says Maureen.

- Cameron Stewart