Not much remains in Towson from when Maravene Loeschke, Towson University's new president, was growing up in the area. The Penn Hotel, where her father would bring her to lunch and warn that she'd "better be a grown-up in here or we're not coming back," now exists only in memories. Hultzer's, the department store that featured a lunchroom that felt like Buckingham Palace, is gone as well.
But luckily for Loeschke, a few fixtures remain. On their first day back in Towson, Loeschke's husband insisted they dine somewhere a true local could long for — the Towson Diner.
"I'm a Towson girl," Loeschke said. "I'd like to know who loves Towson more than I do. I don't know what that looks like.
"The fact that I get to come back, not only to a university but to a community that I know and love, is a fabulous way to start a presidency," she said. "If I had become president in North Dakota, I'd have to find out why I love it. We just skip that, because I already care so much about this community. To come back and see it thriving, it's so exciting, not only because this is where it started, but because this university gave me everything.
"If I've done anything effective in my career, it's because I went here."
The town and university have fingerprints all over Loeschke's life.
She grew up in Parkville, and moved to Lutherville while in high school. Her mother worked at Towson Elementary School. She worshipped at Trinity Episcopal Church on Allegheny Avenue.
And she said that as a theater student, professor and eventually dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at Towson University, she spent more time at that diner than most people ever do.
The university has changed in the decade since Loeschke left for Pennsylvania to become provost at Wilkes University, then president of Mansfield University. She was struck by how much larger everything seems, but tucked inside those big new buildings are some faces from her Towson University past.
James Anthony, who has taught music at Towson since 1971 and has known Loeschke for decades, was "bowled over" when she was named the school's new president. He remembered his former colleague as a "wonderful administrator."
"They couldn't have picked a better person," he said.
Anthony recalled how Loeschke accompanied Mansfield's choir on a recent trip to perform at Towson.
"I could tell the students just adored her," Anthony said. "I think she will ingratiate herself with the students here as much as she can. I have high hopes for her."
Shohreh Kaynama, dean of the College of Business and Economics, took a theater class with Loeschke in 1975 and paid the ultimate compliment for an educator.
"She's the kind of teacher that I still remember the lessons and the things that she taught us," Kaynama said. "I can't say enough things about her as a teacher and a mentor."
She, too, was delighted to learn of Loeschke's return, but said it was like she never left.
"All these years that she has been away from Towson University, she never cut her ties with us," she said. "She would come for different sporting events, she would come for various functions, and she kept her relationships with the community because she really cares about Towson."
Loeschke hopes to leave a similar impression with Towson's current crop of students.
She will join students from the Leadershape program on an upcoming retreat, and already seized an unlikely opportunity to make some early connections with the student body.
On a brief holiday cruise, she shared a ship with several Towson students and their families.
"It was just wonderful," Loeschke said. "They became like my kids by the end of the cruise. They were reporting in, and I had to tell their parents where they were. It was a lot of fun."
While there are plenty of new people to become familiar with, others from her past have popped up as well.
"My sixth grade teacher, a Sunday school teacher, my choir director, my Girl Scout leader," she listed. "People who I would have never had cause — though I would have wished to — to actually speak to again."
That Loeschke's roots extend so deep into Towson could be a boon for the relationship between Towson University and the communities that border it.
She said she truly wants the university to be a good neighbor.
"Anything we can do in the decisions we make that can help Towson as a town, we want to hear that," Loeschke said. "I've been meeting a lot with local business people, the County Council and county executive, people where we can just talk about 'How can we be a help?' "
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and met with Loeschke in the fall, came away impressed.
"I think she's a very warm and engaging leader," Marks said. "I think the fact that she is from this area will help her tremendously in that position.
"My sense is that she's going to continue Towson University's growth, but also be more sensitive to the community and willing to thoughtfully integrate the university into that community."
Marks suggested at their meeting that Loeschke keep up with community groups such as the Greater Towson Council, and expressed his hope that the university be a "laboratory for ideas for how downtown Towson can work."
In November, Loeschke had breakfast with leaders of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, including president and Towson alumnus David Kosak, to begin a dialogue with community leaders.
Kosak said Loeschke acknowledged the work the organization has already done in improving relations between the community and the university and is "looking to continue pushing those forward with us, which is a real breath of fresh air."
"It's something she has found is important to us, and it's really going to be important to her as well," Kosak said.
"It's a high priority to me, that Towson be an absolutely positive, vital, exciting part of this community," agreed Loeschke, "both in the building of Towson as an area for students and the community, and the way we reach out to the community."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun