MALVERN, Pa. — When Cathy Ditterline, financial coordinator, and Jo Baitinger, administrative support assistant, started at Penn State Great Valley — known then as Pennsylvania State University's King of Prussia Center for Graduate Studies and Continuing Education — the campus was located in a former elementary school. Located in nearby King of Prussia, the building consisted of nine classrooms with moveable walls. The bookstore operated out of an old, converted bathroom. Faculty and staff occasionally got splinters from the wooden desks. Course registrations were filled out by hand.
Ditterline started part time at Penn State Great Valley in 1983, and had progressed to a full-time secretarial position when Baitinger turned to her for advice in 1984. Baitinger’s husband had just passed away, and she needed a job and benefits to support herself and her five children. The two were friends — Baitinger had been Ditterline’s boss at a telecommunications company and their sons played on rival football teams. Ditterline referred Baitinger to a secretary position supporting the campus’ education department, and Baitinger started that December.
“I had no clue what I was doing on my first day,” Baitinger recalled. “I remember crying after my first week! I couldn’t tell if a student was applying for a certificate, or if he or she had already obtained one.”
Luckily that feeling subsided. The two women have spent a combined 64 years at Penn State Great Valley and have witnessed many changes, including locations, technology, job responsibilities, and people. Both will retire at the end of December as part of the University’s Voluntary Retirement Program.
They’ve reaped many benefits during their time here. Ditterline’s children all attended Penn State, including a daughter who received her MBA from Penn State Great Valley. Both worked diverse jobs and have become experts in their respective areas. They’ve worked under inspirational people and gained lifelong friendships.
Although Baitinger initially assisted the education department, her role quickly changed. Her boss, Jim McAfee, was promoted to director of academic affairs, and Baitinger moved with him. Baitinger worked on budgets and handled paperwork for promotions and tenure. She even started the campus’ first graduation ceremony, which took place where the Conference Center Building is now.
“I’ve handled almost all academic matters except teaching!" Baitinger joked. "I enjoy my job and I’m never bored. There’s always a variety of work to be done, which keeps it interesting.”
Ditterline was hired to handle non-academic items and administrative tasks — though her responsibilities have morphed over the years, too. She’s handled payroll, the bookstore, the conference center, and much more.
“One day I received a phone call from University Park,” she recalled. “Someone needed directions to our campus, but they were traveling via helicopter. I was surprised to say the least. I gave him the same directions as I would to someone traveling by car, and he made it here just fine. I really do learn something new each day!”
Ditterline has become accustomed to the ever-changing technology. She remembers the evolution of typewriters to memory typewriters to word processors. She even became an expert on fixing the campus’ copier machine. She was given a copier tool kit tongue-in-cheek by her colleagues during National Professional Secretaries Week.
Both women served on the transition team when the campus was relocated to the Great Valley Corporate Center in 1988. “We got to see this campus as it was built,” said Ditterline. “I remember standing in the Main Building when it was a cement base with no walls.”
What the two have loved most about Great Valley is the camaraderie. They both have fond memories of all staff members coming together to accomplish a task, whether it be a mailing, assisting with the annual convocation ceremony, or setting up chairs before graduation. Staff members are dedicated to their jobs, and Baitinger recalled one co-worker walking to work in waist-deep snow.
When asked about notable colleagues, Ditterline named Great Valley’s first chancellor, Larry Cote. “He was strict, but he was fair,” she remarked. “He had a deep understanding of what was going on here.”
Baitinger remembers her first boss, McAfee, for being a unique character. She still keeps in touch with former faculty members from the education department.
The presence of both Ditterline and Baitinger will be greatly missed on campus.
“Jo has spent her 30-plus years with Penn State Great Valley in the Academic Affairs Office, providing support and assistance to faculty,” said Chancellor James Nemes, who manages Baitinger. “Her wealth of knowledge of the Penn State system has been a tremendous benefit to our campus and something that will be impossible to replace.”
Maria Zuccato, director of business and finance, has supervised Ditterline for six years. “Cathy’s dedication to performing her job to the best of her abilities every single day will be greatly missed,” she said. “I have been in business for over 35 years. I’ve witnessed many co-workers retiring, but never have I seen the level of dedication to actively transition knowledge as Cathy has shown. We started preparing for her retirement about four month ago, keeping a list of duties as they arose. We ended up with 72 distinct tasks!”
Baitinger joked she won’t miss the traffic or waking up early. She’s looking forward to sleeping in and spending time with her 11 grandchildren. Ditterline is planning a trip to Italy next fall. Like Baitinger, she has six grandchildren to keep her occupied.
“I’ll miss being busy,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here since day one. I wouldn’t do anything differently.”