Veteran editor, UM journalism teacher retires

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 11:38 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Maine said goodbye to a long-time faculty member Thursday.

Kathryn Olmstead, associate dean and former professor in the department of communication and journalism, retired Aug. 31, after 25 years at UMaine.

More than 30 professors and colleagues attended a retirement reception for her Thursday at UM’s Fogler Library.

“It [working at UMaine] has given me the greatest teaching experience of my life,” Olmstead said. “But it is time to move on and discover new things.”

A native of Michigan, Olmstead came to the university in 1984 after teaching high school English in Wisconsin and New Hampshire and working as a reporter in Maine. She continued her career in journalism while teaching in Orono.

She taught in the department until five years ago, when she became associate dean. She served on policy and curriculum committees, provided academic services for undergraduate students and coordinated external relations.

“She doesn’t look like three people, but it turns out she is,” said Ann Leffler, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “A word like luminous describes everything she does.”

She has worked as an editor for the Aroostook Republican in Caribou and as a correspondent for agricultural newspapers in Kansas and Vermont. She is editor and publisher of the magazine Echoes, which focuses on rural culture and is based in Caribou.

Among her many other career paths and achievements, Olmstead received the Presidential Public Service Award earlier this year.

“She brought a very strong commitment to the skills part of the journalism major,” said Paul Grosswiler, chair of the department of communication and journalism.

Olmstead primarily taught classes in media ethics and news writing.

“She was great at working with students and connecting with students,” Grosswiler said.

Grosswiler and Olmstead began working at UM the same year.

“I was kind of surprised when she left. I’ve always been waiting for her to return,” he said.

Although the program has faded, Olmstead also founded the Maine Center for Student Journalism, which encouraged journalism in secondary schools in Maine.

“I think she generated a lot of interest among high school students,” Grosswiler said.

While at the dean’s office, she implemented programs such as Top of the Class, a recognition for first-year students at UM who held high academic standing.

“She’s done so much with students to do their best,” said Howard Segal, a history professor at UM. Segal and Olmstead worked together for more than 20 years, facilitating Phi Beta Kappa, a collegiate honor society.

“She really invested in students,” Grosswiler said.

Others shared their anecdotes about Olmstead at the reception as well. Most spoke of her commitment to students, her love of The County and her interest and contribution to community.

Olmstead will continue to work with Echoes as well as pursue neglected interests such as gardening, photography and sustainable living.

“To be free to engage in those is just wonderful,” Olmstead said.

Other plans she has for retirement include ghostwriting an autobiography, reuniting with family around the world, traveling and “engaging in surprises.”

When people ask her what her plans are, she replies: “Whatever I want.”

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