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Karen Brandt Heads to Retirement By Way of Meramec Magic Hall of Fame
March 30, 2009
For someone who has shied away from the spotlight her entire life, Karen Brandt will be thrust front and center into the bright lights for a two-week period between March 31 and April 13.
That’s when the longtime and well-respected STLCC-Meramec secretary will retire and will be inducted into the Magic Hall Of Fame. Brandt becomes just the second non-athlete/coach among its 39 honorees. Ironically, the man who hired her, former athletic director Robert Murrey, is the other.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” said Brandt. “I was shocked, I teared up. When I went home that night I thought ‘Did I really hear him right? Someone must have thought that I did something good here, I guess.’”
There would be little doubt among the thousands of athletes who have passed through Meramec’s doors over Brandt’s 32 years that the super secretary has done many good things. Head men’s basketball coach Randy Albrecht, who has been at Meramec during Brandt’s entire tenure, would agree.
“Karen proved immediately she’s highly professional,” said Albrecht. “She’s very organized, she likes detail, she wants to do things in advance which made an immediate conflict with me who’s not detail oriented and does not plan a great deal in the future. She was always pushing ‘Let’s sit down and do this!, Let’s get a plan.’ I would usually say ‘I don’t have time now, how about next week?’”
Brandt’s planning and organization skills were honed at an early age. She started answering the phones for her father’s heating and cooling business at age 12. Following four years at Southwest High School and raising children Julie and Steve along with husband Carl, she started to work at Meramec in a part-time role in October, 1977 in the counseling department.
Two years later Brandt would shift her skills to the athletic department, an irony for someone who is the first to admit she knew virtually nothing about sports at the time.
“Mr. Murrey and I had lots of laughs over that,” said Brandt. “He’s quite the person for hiring me, but he must have seen something good in me. It’s been a really good ride. It’s going to be hard because this is my work family. I have my family, my church family, and my work family - all three are an integral part of my life.”
Brandt’s stint has spanned four athletic directors, as well as six U.S. presidents. Among her most fond memories are those of athletes’ successes.
“When the women’s soccer team won (nationals) two years in a row, it was so exciting,” said Brandt. “Some of us from the office went to the airport to meet the team when they came back. They’re a part of you, too. You’re proud of them.”
Proud would describe how Bob Bottger reflects on his years as physical education department chair and manager of athletics with Brandt. Bottger says her cheerful demeanor and organized habits quickly stood out to him when he first met Brandt in 1990.
“People here are very conscientious,” said Bottger. “What I think was lacking here in the office overall was organization. It’s also her energy and her enthusiasm. Every morning it’s a ‘Good morning, how are you Bob?’ ‘How was your weekend?’ So I’ll miss that. That’s my morning greeter every day.”
Brandt’s sunny disposition also spread throughout the office as no frowns were allowed in her presence. “When (facilities manager) Joe Swiderski came in I found out that Karen had a sense of humor,” said Albrecht. “She could find ways to get Joe to laugh once in awhile and you really have to be funny to do that.”
Among the major projects she helped organize and run were the Scholarship Walk, the Hall Of Fame Induction Banquet, and program books for all sports, including the massive, 54 page Holiday Basketball Tournament guide. Brandt’s philosophy is one of help.
“My perspective is I try to do the very best to represent Meramec,” said Brandt. “I think the student is our focus here. I also try to help other people get their jobs done; I enjoy that, it’s like a fulfillment. If I can help somebody, that’s good. You go home and you sleep good at night.”
Brandt should sleep very well following her induction into the Magic Hall of Fame April 13. She was voted for induction in her first year on the ballot, an honor that caught her by surprise when Bottger called her in to break the news last December.
“It’s going to make my day to tell you that you’ve been voted into the Meramec Hall of Fame,” recalled Brandt of Bottger’s words. “I go, ‘What? You’re kidding me! I couldn’t be nominated, I’m not a coach,’ and he said ‘But there’s contributors,’ ” said Brandt. “But I didn’t give any money!” was her retort, “I was shocked, and I told him I didn’t think I should accept it and he said ‘Too bad, you’re going to anyway.’ Then I accused him of counting the votes wrong.”
For perhaps the first time, Brandt has no advance planning for retirement time, other than to enjoy her four grandchildren. As she has her entire life, Brandt will place her future in her faith.
“God has a plan for my life,” she said. “I’m not sure right now what that step’s going to be.”