In the late 1960s, Maravene Loeschke's father, a county highways worker, would drop her off in front of Stephens Hall at 8 a.m. every day and pick her up that evening.
Decades later, Loeschke finds herself spending similar hours in Towson, but now as the university's president.
The Parkville native, who officially started this month, brings a student-centric approach and deep local roots to an institution and town she holds close to her heart.
Loeschke, a former Towson professor, theater department chair and dean, succeeds Robert Caret, who for the University of Massachusetts system. She comes from a stint as president of Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.
The 60-year-old Loeschke grew up in Parkville and Towson and graduated . Her mother was a secretary at Towson Elementary School. Her family worshipped at and during college, the was practically a second home.
The second Towson alumna to head her alma mater, she graduated in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in theater, and a master's degree in education in 1971.
At then-Towson State College, she studied alongside the likes of John Glover, Charles S. Dutton and Howard Rollins in the school's nascent but rigorous theater program, started by Richard Gillespie, the professor whom she would later marry.
"The standards that were held for us in that department were so high that everything after that was boring for us," Loeschke said, adding that actors found themselves designing lighting and researching scripts. "Graduate school, those that went on to Yale thought it was boring because we had done so much and were held to such a high standard that everything else seemed easy."
So Loeschke came back for more and returned as a professor. A student of Marcel Marceau understudy Tony Montanaro, she helped start Towson's renowned mime program, which ran for 15 years. Loeschke has since written books about miming and the history of Baltimore theater.
She spent 32 years, in all, at Towson, including five years as the dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. There, she pushed for a longtime pet project, the renovation of the Center for the Arts, which now includes multiple theaters, seating areas, galleries and a cafe.
"They had to have what art students needed when they were going to be in the building the whole darn day," she said. "My greatest gift to Towson, if I would've never come back, would have been that fine arts center."
But she was hired away in 2002 as provost at Wilkes University and never got to enjoy the new building, something she jokingly regrets.
Today, she doesn't have the kind of time for acting as she used to, though she plans to give a performance of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters with Gillespie, as she did when she arrived at Mansfield. Nevertheless, she's happy to be back on Maryland's arts scene.
"Towson is an enormous chunk of the Maryland arts scene," she said. "All of these small theater companies that have sprung up, almost all of them have a Towson person running it. ... To know that you can go out and you can have maybe 35 shows that you can pick from, I don't know if Baltimore knows how lucky it is."
Loeschke takes the reins as the state prepares its next budget. Many of Towson's large capital projects are already underway, with just a few on its immediate wish list—a pedestrian bridge over Osler Drive and renovations to Smith Hall—not yet fully funded.
Loeschke has experience with painful cuts, including to the football program and several under-utilized academic programs at Mansfield. She survived a faculty vote of no confidence as the university's trustees voiced their support.
Now Loeschke takes over Towson and its $411.2 million fiscal 2012 budget, but she feels much more comfortable in Maryland than in Pennsylvania.
"Look how many universities we have in this area. And we have governments that understand the real investment that higher education is," she said. "That's one piece I haven't had the last couple of years."
Additionally, she comes to Towson with a faculty that instantly respects her for her years of dedicated service to the school.
"Of all the administrators I've ever known, the qualities of Maravene Loeschke outshine all of them. Her intelligence, her decency, her fairness, her focus," said , a longtime communication studies professor who worked with Loeschke when she was dean.
At Mansfield, Loeschke was known for keeping a porch light on at her on-campus home as a signal for students to knock if they wished to speak to her. That won't work out so well with her university-owned home in Guilford, but she said she's looking to keep that spirit alive.
Loeschke's history in the area and warm, personable style impressed the presidential search committee and scored her instant points among community and government leaders.
David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said Loeschke was on the same page with neighborhood issues, and expressed a desire to make the campus more open for neighbors. The best part, Kosak said, is that Loeschke will have little learning curve.
"It seems like we're going to sort of hit the ground running," he said. "As president of the university, she has a great role in our community and we want her to be there and we want her to know we're there for her."
Loeschke said she wants residents to know that the university cares, and said she is excited to use Towson's strengths to improve downtown Towson and leverage arts and athletics to bring more residents in.
County Councilman David Marks was "extraordinarily impressed" with her in a meeting last fall, and said she understands the role the university could play in revitalizing downtown Towson.
"What we're doing is starting to sprinkle the university through the heart of downtown. It does a couple of things. It stabilizes downtown, it brings foot traffic into the heart of Towson, particularly during the day, and it psychologically knits this community closer together," Marks said.
Loeschke has a personal stake in it, too.
"My whole career developed here, I went to school here, grew up in the neighborhood and now I get at my age to come back here and put all this together in a way that comes full circle," she said. "It's a gift to me, so I have a very serious desire to get it right."