BENTON TOWNSHIP — After 37 years at Lake Michigan College, Mary Klemm is is stepping down from her longtime role as chief fundraiser for the college.

Klemm is retiring as the LMC Foundation’s executive director because she’s ready to pursue other personal interests, Klemm said after Tuesday’s LMC board meeting. She’s led the foundation since 2015. Her last day will be Jan. 1.

“It’s time. I’m at an age where I can still enjoy life, I’m still healthy and I can enjoy my children, who are grown up now,” Klemm said. “I’d like to look into volunteer work, and my husband has started a business, so I’ll be more involved in that,” she said.

Asked what she’ll miss most about leaving the place she’s worked so long, Klemm responded, “I’m going to be cliched, and say what everyone else does – it’s the people. Because, really, if you don’t like who you work for, it’s a miserable time.”

Although he’s only worked with her for a short time, Klemm’s LMC ties go back to its beginnings, said LMC President Trevor Kubtazke.

“She is the ultimate dedicated employee and friend and champion of this institution – her father was actually here at the beginning of this campus,” Kubatzke said. “One thing we say is, ‘When you work and do something you love, you probably don’t age a day.’”

Klemm, of St. Joseph, graduated from LMC in 1980 and joined the college three years later as an admissions secretary. She continued her education at Siena Heights University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1989.

“I only had a two-year degree when I started here. It was a secretarial science degree – my, how far we’ve come,” Klemm said, laughing.

Klemm moved on into college relations, which grew into the Advancement Office, and then the foundation, which she joined in 1986.

As executive director, Klemm is responsible for fundraising, including the college’s two signature events – the Winner’s Circle Benefit Auction and its annual golf outing. She also oversees alumni relations and other special events.

Seeing the foundation grow from a gift of $10,000 to the $17 million entity that it’s become today ranks among the most satisfying aspects of her time at LMC, Klemm said.

“After 31 golf outings, 29 auctions, numerous groundbreakings, grand openings and receptions I can’t even count, and many fundraising campaigns, it’s just been a great time here and I thank you,” she told the board.

Asked to pinpoint her other achievements, Klemm pointed to the Campaign For Tomorrow that helped raise $7 million toward the college’s overhaul of its Napier Avenue main campus, and the passage of its first capital millage, in 2016, she said.

“It was a huge campaign. It created the Hanson Tech Center, it created the Wine (and Viticulture) Center, and it’s transforming the main building, with the renovations taking place,” Klemm said.

“This was just a two-building campus when I started. It was just the main building and what was called the Community Center, which is now the Mendel Center.”

LMC’s completion of the Mendel Center Mainstage in 1992 marked another major personal highlight for Klemm.

“That was a $4.2 million campaign – that was our first one. We exceeded our goal. it was a great campaign and it finished the Mainstage. The theater had 10 grand pianos. it was quite a night,” she said.

Though Klemm is leaving next month, she’ll stick around through the end of March to oversee one more auction, which plays a crucial role in raising money for scholarships and other student needs, Klemm said.

Watching Klemm’s skills in those areas has been one of the most significant experiences, in his time of working with Klemm, said Kubatzke, who’s been president since 2017.

“I’ve only had the pleasure of working with her for three years, but just watching her manage donor relations and especially our activities – people don’t understand how impactful the auction is to our communities and our students,” he said.

Klemm’s longevity has also made her LMC’s “encyclopedia,” in areas that go well beyond her own role at the college, Kubatzke said.

“If we had any question about what’s happened at the college, we called Mary. Between Mary and (vice president for administration) Anne Erdman, those two have the historical (memory of the) institution,” Kubtazke said. “She’s graciously allowed us to pick her brain at any time of things that have happened.”

Klemm has just been named to the Children’s Advocacy Center Board and expects to help her husband, Ron, with his new business of making and repairing canvas for boats, she said.

Klemm’s successors will be Doug Schaffer, who’ll take over as vice president of community impact, and Barbara Craig, who’ll work directly with donors as community impact and resource development director, Klemm said.

Said Kubatzke: “Doug is taking over the full rein of the foundation. He’s been mentoring under Mary to learn the golf outing and learn the auction,” Kubatzke said. “And Barbara Craig has come over to the foundation, also, to do community outreach.”

Craig is presently vice president of student engagement. She and Schaffer, in turn, had been dividing the Student Affairs responsibilities, until LMC hired Nygil Likely in August, as dean of that department, Kubatzke said.