Marilyn L. Dannenfelser, assistant to Towson U. president

Marilyn L. Dannenfelser, who during her more than four-decade career served as an aide to six presidents of Towson University, died Saturday of breast cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The Riderwood resident was 63.

"Marilyn was the heart and soul of Towson University," said Maravene Loeschke, the university's president. "She had the ability to make everyone feel respected, valued and even calmer when needed. She was a woman of talent, character and grace."

"She was a great person in her ability to make a president a president," said Susanna F. Craine, former longtime Towson spokeswoman.

Marilyn L. Jones was born in Baltimore and raised on Stonewood Road in Northwood.

After graduating from Eastern High School in 1966, she worked for several months at a downtown law firm before taking a job in the evening and summer school of what was then Towson State College.

In 1977, she married Conrad J. Dannenfelser, and the couple lived in Highlandtown and Parkville before moving to Riderwood.

Mrs. Dannenfelser had worked as executive administrative assistant to the president of Towson University since 1979, earning a reputation for efficiency in dealing with the public and for keeping administrators and faculty members "on the straight and narrow," said Dan Leonard, who has directed Towson's Leadership Institute since 1994.

During Mrs. Dannenfelser's 46-year career, she combined a sense of diplomacy and humor with a willing and helpful ear when it came to dealing with problems or faculty, administration, students and the general public.

"Because people who called were insistent, and the 'buck stopped here' in the president's office, Marilyn never saw a situation she couldn't defuse. What she had was a gift," said Mr. Leonard. "Her death is a huge loss for the university."

"I spent 16 years next door to the president's office. Marilyn was always a lady and great to work with," said Ted Zaleski Jr., former Towson University chief of staff, who recalled Mrs. Dannenfelser's flexibility and skill in dealing with people.

"She had the touch and was incredibly patient and gracious. No one ever hung up without thinking that she had not taken care of them. She'd say to them, 'Don't worry, everything will be OK,' or, 'We're not going to go there.' That was one of her famous phrases," said Mr. Zaleski, who stepped down from his position last year.

Elizabeth Carbone, executive assistant of Towson's division of university advancement, is a longtime colleague and friend.

"She's the type of person everyone wants to be, but seldom is. She was kind, fair, and being helpful was never an effort," said Ms. Carbone.

"She had the ability to make people feel comfortable. She'd get answers for them and never made them feel stupid," she said. "She was everyone's best girlfriend."

In her role, Mrs. Dannenfelser looked out for administration and faculty members, often sparing them from impending trouble.

"Marilyn was incredibly wise and could send you help. She could give you the worst news, but you felt OK receiving it. She gave you time to organize your thoughts and a response if there was some question about something you did or didn't do," Mr. Leonard said with a laugh.

An additional role was that of university historian.

"She had incredible recollections and a filing system that she had developed over the years," said Mr. Zaleski. "Whatever the president or chancellor wanted, Marilyn could come up with it. She could find anything anytime."

Mrs. Dannenfelser was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. After years of being in remission, the cancer returned three years ago.

Despite nursing her husband, a Giant truck driver who died in 2008, through two bouts of cancer, Mrs. Dannenfelser continued working and had not retired at her death.

"She battled her illness twice with immense determination and strength, never complaining about what she had to endure," said her daughter, Kimberly A. Dannenfelser, who also lives in Riderwood. "She was and will always be my hero."

Known for her sense of humor, Mrs. Dannenfelser enjoyed attending and giving parties, and dancing.

She enjoyed reading, traveling and spending summer vacations in Bethany Beach, Del., and Ocean City.

Mrs. Dannenfelser was a communicant of St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church, 8801 Harford Road in Parkville, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Dannenfelser is survived by two brothers, Stephen E. Jones of Cockeysville and Brian K. Jones of Middle River; a sister, Tracy L. Richardson of Middle River; and five nephews and five nieces.

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