Since he was five years old, every single September meant going back to school for Tom Muench. Until this year. Seventy Septembers since his very first day of school ever, Muench didn’t spend the first day of school this year packing up a bag, ironing a shirt and heading out for another year of students, textbooks and no. 2 pencils. This year would be different.
Muench announced to his friends, colleagues and students on Facebook last June that his position at Le Moyne had been eliminated due to budget cuts, so he would not be returning to Le Moyne this fall.
For weeks following his announcement post, he received comments and messages of encouragement for his future and disappointment to see him go, wall posts echoing that Le Moyne just won’t be the same without him, and even pleas for it to not be true.
And for Muench, the feelings were mutual.
“Learning I would not return this year was very difficult for me,” he said. “My reaction was confused and people were constantly asking me why. It’s hard and it will take a long time, but Le Moyne taught me that there’s no room for bitterness in the formula. It wasn’t my choice to leave, but it’s a reality, and you continue to move forward. This whole community is still family to me.”
Muench was one of 13 part time employees that were laid off this summer in a cut and remodel of offices, departments and positions, he said.
Leaving the heights in June ended a 20-year history for Muench with Le Moyne. Beginning here in 1993, he started out as an admissions counselor, and was soon given the title of Assistant Director of Admissions.
Having been here for two decades, Muench has seen the campus grow, reconstruct and bring in tens of thousands of students throughout the years.
“It was love at first sight the first time I came on this campus,” Muench said. “And I thought then, it couldn’t get better than this. But I’ve been proven wrong every year since then.”
Muench saw the chapel built. He saw the cafeteria get an upgrade. He saw the science center addition from start to finish. He saw the original Den, and then the 11 years without it, and then the new Den. He has seen thousands and thousands of students walk through the doors of Grewen Hall on their first day, doing his best to meet every single one of them.
“If I meet a kid, I know ‘em for life,” he said. “I always wanted to really know every student that walked on this campus.”
In his position as assistant director of admissions, he traveled to local high schools to recruit students, conducted interviews on campus with prospective dolphins and met regularly with current students to check in with them to see how they’re doing.
In theory, he was responsible for bringing in one third of the recruited students from each freshmen class at Le Moyne for the last 20 years.
And when it comes to his favorite part of the job, it’s no question for Muench.
“Working with kids, obviously,” he said. “I was put on earth to work with and to help kids.”
But for most students, Muench is more than a man who worked in the admissions office. He took students out to lunch. He e-mailed you during finals to see what he could do to help. He ran down the hall just to catch you before class to ask you how it’s going. He was, as most students remember him, the happiest guy on campus that was always cracking jokes and chatting up with students in the hall, and the owner of the office full of smiley face decorations.
And Muench wasn’t just popular with the kids. He set up counselor dinners for faculty, cheered the loudest at home games and was always in the front row for concerts in the chapel.
Muench’s strong admiration for and connection with Le Moyne stretches beyond his friendships with students and colleagues. For Muench, Le Moyne has become a part of him.
“When I think back to Le Moyne, or like today when I come back on campus, I feel…I feel home,” he said. “Le Moyne is home. The ball games, the concerts, the chapel, the sandwiches in the Den, the kids in the halls, my work-study student Eileen, Sharon that cleaned my office, Theresea in the Den, Denny and my friends in admissions… that’s home.”
Leaving his Le Moyne home hasn’t been easy for Muench, especially because it was never something he planned to do.
“No way, how could I leave this job? Why would I wanna leave? My kids have taken such good care of me,” he said. “And I’m not done with this job. If a kid needs me at 2 a.m., I’ll be there. You need me, I’m here. And that’s not gonna stop.”
“I want it known that I did not retire,” Muench added. “I would not tell a student that I recruited that I would be there if I didn’t mean it. Retiring never crossed my mind, because you don’t retire from something you love. I didn’t retire because I’ll never be done with this job. I will always be there for my students.”
“I’m not good at that [relaxing] anyway,” he joked. “I can’t build bird houses. I’m not getting any better at golf. I’d rather spend my time reaching out and reconnecting with the kids.”
Muench also noted that though the end to his journey at Le Moyne is upsetting, he will always cherish his memories here and will always look to grow from setbacks like this.
“Would I like to still be here? Yes,” he said. “But you’re going to face these things in life. I would want my kids to get stronger from these kinds of things, so I need to get stronger from this. But I don’t really want to even go there. Why it happened doesn’t matter. You have to learn to overcome these challenges.”
“All I can ask is that students to just…just keep me in your memory of using laughter, fun and giving within your mission,” he added.
His closing advice to the dolphins back at the heights is to make the most of each day, especially during your time at Le Moyne.
“You live life every single day. You live it. Laugh a lot. Cry a little. Face every challenge. Walk tall. Say hello to every person you see. Have fun. Play hard. If you’re not involved, get involved. Live life.”
Although he admits it’s not the same, Muench has been able to stay connected with his students through Facebook and e-mail, and wants students to have all of his contact information so they can continue to stay in touch with him and come to him whenever they need something.
In fact, when leaving Le Moyne this June, he said the hardest part wasn’t packing up his desk; it wasn’t saying goodbye to his colleagues; it wasn’t leaving the campus to head home.
It was losing his e-mail account before he had time to back up his contact list of students he had promised to stay in touch with.
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