Darleen Lugenbuhl has recently been hired as the Executive Director of Advancement at UL, but she comes to Lafayette by way of Ball State, Cornell, Loyola, Tulane Medical School, and the University of Maryland. ultoday.com spoke with her recently.

Darleen Lugenbuhl, University Advancement, University of Louisiana

Tell us about yourself.

That's a long story.  I got into fund raising through the back door.  But then, I don't think I know anyone who woke up from their nap in kindergarten and said, "I want to be a fundraiser when I grow up." 

I grew up in New Orleans. I started life as teacher; I taught music in pre-K through 8th grade at Lake Castle, a private school in New Orleans.   There are three campuses now, but the original school is run by a 1981 UL alumna, Lydia Butera.  She was one of my students.

During that time I married a music professor at Loyola, from upstate New York.  We wrote the first jazz studies curriculum for Loyola. And then he decided he wanted to leave, so we moved to Milwaukee.

I had the privilege of working for the Kohl family in Milwaukee, as in Kohl's department stores. I worked for them as their administrative assistant. I did lot of things, anything from overseeing their trust accounts, to making sure their kids' tuitions were paid, to changing the batteries in their watches. It was relatively carefree. One thing I remember is trying to decide if we should plant more alfalfa on the ranch in California, or asparagus.

They were also very generous donors. They donated some tens of thousands of dollars every month. It was a good job. I learned a lot; that was my MBA.

We followed the Dean from Milwaukee to Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. That's where I learned to love living in a smaller town. There are so many opportunities in a small college town that you don't have in a big city.  The things I was able to do and accomplish in Muncie, I would never have accomplished in the D.C. area.  I would never have served on the boards, or do the volunteer work that we did.

I managed a private club in Muncie, a women's club. The men in town had a club, and they wouldn't let the women in the door-- much less, join.

So the women purchased a historic building in town.  Nothing stopped them. They bought the house, lent themselves the money, and proceeded to run the Riley-Jones Club.  Ironically, it was named after a man, George Riley Jones; knowing some day we would put the house on the historic registered, we realized it would be easier if it were named for someone historical.  We hyphenated it because it was the trendy thing to do with women's names.

One day I got a call from George Riley Jones III who said, "I want to see what the ladies have done to it." I called all the members, and told them they had to get there.

And you let a man in?

We would serve lunches, and we let men in the club as guests.

As luck would have it, about 12 or 15 years after the club opened, the men's club closed. We got a call from some of the men who wanted to join the Jones-Riley Club, and asked if we would be consider merging the two clubs.

Some of the women wanted to say, "Hell no."  When we were trying to open, the bankers in town would not lend us the money, and they were the same ones who wanted to join us.  Now we had the best club, and the best food in town. So I said, "We should let them in.

"But we should make them pay."

When I left there, I went on to manage the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie. I did that for eight years.  Through that, I got into tourism, and did a master's in public relations.  My thesis was on the image of Muncie as perceived by its target audience. That led to a study by Ball state, that was fashioned on my earlier work, which looked at BSU's image as perceived by its its target audience.

But I got weary of managing the facility. The wife of BSU's president was a friend and she said, "You're great at building relationships. There's a position in the development office, and if you use those skills in fundraising, you won't have to manage a building any more. "  So that's how I got into fundraising.

I had gone through a divorce, and after a while decide that I didn't need to stay in Muncie any more. I looked a job at Brebeuf Academy, a Jesuit school in Indianapolis, and I looked at a position at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  I took the job at Cornell, as one of several development officers assigned to the College of Engineering. The development office at Cornell knows what they're doing, they've done it a long time, and they do it well.  So I figured whatever I learned there would be a real asset. I loved living in Ithaca, and I loved my job.

9/11 came along, and even though we were upstate, the school was greatly affected.  Many of the students were from the city, and they had friends and family in the buildings, some of whom died.

At the same time, I had an 87-year old mother still living in New Orleans, who was beginning to need more and more help. Even though I went home frequently, it was becoming difficult to deal with her long-distance, and there was no way she was going to move up to Ithaca.

So I began to think, What was I doing that I couldn't be doing closer to home? Out of the blue I got a phone call from an old friend, someone I grew up with, who said there was a job at Loyola that had my name written all over it; if I was ever thinking about coming home, I should look into it.  I applied, interviewed, and got it.  So I moved back to New Orleans in early 2002.  My momma was happy.

I ran a fund-raising campaign for Loyola University.  Eventually, I went to work for Tulane Medical School, primarily with the Primate Center.  And then Katrina came along.

After Katrina, most of us with the Medical School were allowed to find our professional futures elsewhere. So my mother and I went to Knoxville to stay with my cousin Jack, a neurologist, and his family.  It became a rather serendipitous family; my cousin Carolyn, a cancer patient and her husband also came to live with us because there was no cancer treatment in New Orleans at that time.  I suppose it was a good thing as a family, because we all got to bond again.

I had to find a job, and there were no opportunities in New Orleans.  So I went to the University of Maryland, and worked at the Clark School of Engineering.  But after three years, I decided the Washington-Baltimore area would never feel like home.  I decided I wanted a college town, not too small, not too big. I wanted a city that derived a significant portion of its quality of life from having the presence of a university. I wanted to be back in Louisiana, where things were familiar. And I wanted a place that was poised for growth.

And I found UL.

What do you make of Lafayette so far?

It's a great place, in a great state.  It's a little gem.  It's a secret that we should let more people know about.

And UL?

I think this institution is poised for greatness.  A quick example would be the Beausoleil Solar Home.  Our students and faculty are in fierce competition against some very good schools, but UL's concept is head and shoulders above other entries I've seen.  And I was at the University of Maryland in 2007, when they finished second.

UL's just poised for greatness.