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Mary Tokarsky: Friends Mark Retirement of 'Amazing Individual'

Her initial impression of the University of Cincinnati was forged during a winter storm in 1976.

Date: 12/15/2006
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Her initial impression of the University of Cincinnati was forged during a winter storm in 1976. She was the girlfriend of a DAAP student, and had come to campus to watch him and his classmates demonstrate bridges they had made.

Thirty years later, Mary Tokarsky – who married that DAAP student in 1979, by the way – crosses a major span of her own. The longtime fixture in the A&S Undergraduate Affairs and Advising Office retires this month with an overflowing mental scrapbook and the support of a campus full of friends.

"I'll never forget when I saw this place the first time, the magnitude of it," said Tokarsky. "I'll always keep that memory."

Surrounded by people and places she loves dearly, Tokarsky can't make it through a 15-minute conversation about her job without bursting into tears.

That level of caring, her friends say, speaks volumes about the type of person and employee who came to work at UC straight out of high school and retires as program coordinator.


Mary Tokarsky, right, A&S program coordinator, is joined at her retirement party by Lisa Newman, director of Undergraduate Studies and Internship Programs, Communication.

"I loved every minute of it. It kept my life interesting," said Tokarsky, who was feted with a Dec. 14 retirement party at Stratford Heights.

"I've enjoyed working with everyone …everyone has treated me so well, and with such respect. So many people would drop what they were doing to help me get something accomplished. I hope I've served them the same way."

Another 2006 retiree, former assistant dean of student affairs Barbara Schooley, is a fan.

"Mary has a warm and unique personality. Her smile and humor each morning made a wonderful start to each day for me," Schooley said.

"She is a true and loving friend, a bulldog when she thinks something is not right, has a keen mind, an insatiable desire to delve into problems and solve them, and a level of energy which often left me breathless. All of these qualities made her very special to the students, faculty, and staff she has served over the past thirty years. Her commitment to the college and university will be impossible to ever replace and will be sorely missed. She really deserves this retirement and time to spend in any way she wishes."

Tokarsky's first job back in 1976 was in student records: "I was a floater – my job was to help anyone who needed help," she said.

That lasted for about three weeks and her promotion to clerical specialist. Special moments began to accumulate on the campus she loved.

She recalls waiting for her husband to pick her up on March 17, 1982, when she left work and went straight to Christ Hospital to deliver the couple's first son, Brad.

A UC graduate, Brad celebrates his first wedding anniversary this year. His younger brother, Craig, is now a student at UC.

"I'll miss Craig not being able to stop by my office when he wants to or needs to," Tokarsky said, plucking another tissue from the box in her desk. "I couldn't be more proud of my sons."

Her move to A&S came while she was on maternity leave caring for Brad, and Debbie Shinall informed her of her lateral transfer to the Veterans Office. "She encouraged me to speak with Joan Meeker, the hiring supervisor of the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, which I did," Tokarsky said.

She was hired on the spot, finished out her maternity leave and started her job in A&S.


Dozens of A&S faculty and staff turned out to mark Mary Tokarsky's 30-year career and to honor her retirement.

She worked directly under Meeker, "who made sure I was recognized for my efforts and promoted me to records manager," she said.

"Joan eventually retired and I assumed her duties, which consisted of degree certification, maintenance of the Degree Requirement Sheet, and overseeing the functions of individual student records."

Comparing students of 30 years ago and those pursuing degrees today, some things are still very much the same for those Tokarsky advises – and many things are wildly different.

"Students still enter the university with hopes and dreams to achieve an academic degree. Many of these students are the first in their family to do so," she said.

"Not only are they dealing with the academic rigor but also the financial demands. We have an amazing amount of students who are going to school full-time and working an unimaginable amount of hours to pay the bills. Of course, the cost of education has increased, but also, technology as great as it is, has increased the demands of students being ‘connected’ via e-mail and having internet access, which is anything but cheap. Some students can pull it off; some just squeeze by, and some unfortunately decide it’s just not worth it and drop out."

One of Tokarsky's proudest UC moments came through her responsibility for keeping the Degree Requirement Sheet up to date for college and departmental requirements.

"In 1992, the university introduced the Degree Progress Audit, DPA, and stated that it was required by all colleges to get on board," she said. "Arts & Sciences did climb on board, which meant that I had to keep two separate advising systems up-to-date simultaneously."

Eventually, she said, students who were in the "old" system graduated and she was able to maintain one system.

"A piece of cake! With A&S being the largest college and serving so many students, the new system was a necessity," she said. "I always felt fortunate to be the one who was responsible for keeping the DPA system for A&S up-to-date. It was a challenge but I could not have achieved any of it if it hadn’t been for folks in the Registrar’s Office and UCit. What I have learned is that I can accomplish anything I set out to do. As long as I don't shy away from any task and I seek out and find the right resources, I can and will adapt to any situation."

Her supervisor for the past eight years, Jeannette Songer, said Tokarsky is "so much more than an employee."

"She is my mentor, my friend, my human encyclopedia of UC facts, and above all, she is my inspiration," Songer said.

"Mary is one of the most amazing individuals I have ever known. She is able to balance work, family, and life in general with a level of grace that astounds me. She knows more about how things work around here than anyone. She certifies students for graduation; she updates and maintains degree progress audits; she is a wizard with course equivalencies, and with all of that she still has the most infectious laugh I have ever heard."

Students have enriched Tokarsky's career and life, she said.

"They've trusted me, allowed me to help them," Tokarsky said. "With any large organization, the customer is going to have expectations – and there are all different types of people. I've seen students come in with such frustrations … I would sometimes just have to tell them, 'Stop. Let me help you.'"

One of her few regrets is that because of job demands, she couldn't share enough with interesting, caring co-workers.

"So many times, you don't get to spend quality time with the people you work with," she said. "There aren't enough hours in the day. So I've been doing a lot of catching up over the past two months … There are so many amazing people at UC that I am going to miss and will never forget."

Tokarsky won't, however, be sitting around waiting for a lunch invitation.

She'll be going to work as marketing director for her husband's architectural firm, L.G. Tokarsky & Associates, in Mason.

"I can say, with such confidence, that he's my biggest cheerleader and supporter," she said.

"It makes me feel so good; gives me direction and purpose, to know that I'll continue doing something good for someone. As much as part of miss will miss this place, I want to get started on the next part of my life … UC has provided an environment where I was challenged and I achieved success. I am confident my future will be rewarding."

And she leaves an appreciative audience, including Jeannette Songer.

She has, Songer said, "learned so much from Mary over the past eight years."

"Mary, I am going to miss you more than you know and more than I can say," she said. "Thank you for all you’ve done for me, for the college, and for the University!

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