Friends and ex-colleagues are paying tribute to former Central Michigan University first lady Louise Plachta as a steadfast supporter of literacy and a voice for CMU's nontraditional students.
Plachta, the widow of former CMU president Leonard Plachta, and a CMU alum and retiree, passed away this morning.
"Louise was a woman of character and convictions," said Lisa Diaz Sytsema, who spent much time with the Plachtas when she was interim alumni director and also as the Student Government Association president. "She always had a heart for the nontraditional students at CMU and spent a great deal of energy not only listening to their concerns but advocating on their behalf."
A nontraditional college student herself, Plachta took 17 years to receive her undergraduate degree and six years to earn her master's degree.
"I was a nontraditional student from the word 'go,'" she told Central Michigan Life in 2000.
She studied language and literature as a CMU graduate student while working full-time as a secretary for the Office of Student Affairs and also what is now the recreation, parks and leisure services administration department.
Roger Coles, faculty emeritus, was chairman of the recreation department when Plachta was secretary. The two became lifelong friends.
"As first lady, Louise always represented CMU with grace, dignity, friendliness and humor," Coles said. "She was even-tempered, quick with a smile and a kind word to everyone she met."
When Plachta earned her master's degree in 1992, she received her diploma from her husband during the December commencement ceremonies.
Leonard Plachta was president from 1992-2000, after serving as dean of business administration and as an accounting professor. He died in 2008.
After the Plachtas retired from their official positions in 2000, Louise was appointed CMU's undergraduate nontraditional student liaison, a role in which she raised funds for a dedicated resource room for nontraditional students — generally defined as those over age 25.
Also in 2000, the Plachtas received the Distinguished Leader and Service Award, the highest nonacademic award bestowed by CMU, and emeritus recognition from the Board of Trustees.
The board's resolution described her as "an exceptional and much-loved ambassador for CMU, generous in her support of the university's programs, friendly and even-tempered, quick with a smile and a kind word to everyone she meets, and gracious in all her dealings with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends."
Marcie Otteman, executive director of alumni relations, agrees.
"As former first lady, Louise Plachta was very involved with the university," Otteman said. "She attended many events and was always so gracious and kind. She was very proud of CMU and the Mount Pleasant community and loved to talk about both."
In retirement, Plachta taught adult literacy classes at Mount Pleasant Area Volunteers for Literacy.
She and her husband were instrumental in raising nearly $320,000 to renovate Warriner Hall, home of what is now Plachta Auditorium.
"Louise's participation in campus life did not end after President Plachta stepped down — nor did it end after his passing in 2008. It was always a highlight for me to talk with her at a home football game or at the concert for young people funded by an endowment from Dr. and Mrs. Plachta and held in the Warriner Hall auditorium that bears their name," said Mary Jane Flanagan, executive assistant to the president.