MALVERN, PA. — On February 20, 1990, Patty McFadden, manager of conference services, walked into Penn State Great Valley for the first time. She then worked as a staff assistant for the continuing education department, when the campus still consisted of one building, and there was no conference center for her to manage. Twenty-seven years later, McFadden is set to retire at the end of June.
For McFadden, what began as an opportunity to provide her children with tuition benefits, soon turned into a thriving career. Her initiative and work ethic caught the attention of Bill Milheim, Great Valley’s then-executive officer and associate dean. In 2001, he offered her a position to develop non-credit teacher workshops and conferences to help increase enrollment for the master’s degree program in special education.
In 2002, Milheim again approached McFadden to help the campus. This time, to assist director Elayna McReynolds in launching the conference center, thus beginning her relationship with the center and the numerous people and organizations who utilized the services over the years.
Working in the conference center has offered McFadden many opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach. She has met notable individuals such as Coretta Scott King. Through this connection, she was invited as a guest to attend Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee’s 50th wedding anniversary in New York City. She remembers arriving in a green sequined gown only to discover everyone else dressed in all black.
Wearing green among a sea of black symbolizes McFadden’s time at Great Valley: she stood out. Both professionally and on a personal level, she exudes hard work, positivity, and above all, fun. These qualities, combined with her experience organizing workshops and close involvement with the conference center, awarded her a promotion to interim manager in spring of 2005. Five months later, she was asked to stay permanently.
She noted the progression of the conference center, and how crucial it was for her to realize there is a connection between the graduate school and the corporate clients, and to strive to communicate positively with everyone.
“Words matter,” McFadden said. “Whether talking to a client, boss or student. If you say the wrong thing, apologize for it.”
McFadden also sought out her education at Penn State, starting at Penn State Delaware County (now Brandywine), to pursue the “step-up” certificate program for office administrators. She then obtained her degree in business. Two of her children attended Penn State. Her daughter received a master’s degree in special education from Great Valley, and the other worked as an intern at the campus.
“Penn State has been great to my family,” she noted. “And when you’re given these opportunities, you want to give back.”
McFadden will fondly remember her time here: past holiday parties, her work with the diversity committee, the people, and the interesting speakers and events at the conference center.
“I’ll miss the connection with business and industry,” McFadden said. “And realizing that my work was important and made a difference.”
McFadden will be a very busy retiree. She and her husband, Denny, leave for Colorado the morning following her last day of work for a retirement kick-off vacation with family. Other trips include South Carolina beach in August, followed by Scotland and Ireland in September. An avid hiker, she has explored 19 national parks and intends to visit five more in the next five years. She will also devote more time for adventures with her granddaughters, Molly and Fiona.
She hopes to brush up on her cooking skills, since the leftover conference catering is just one of the benefits that she will miss. But for McFadden, the best perk was always the collegiality and fun she experienced at Penn State Great Valley over the last 27 years.