Marilyn Leek celebrates 50 years at Simpson


Photo submitted to the Simpsonian

by Laura Brighton, Special to the Simpsonain

Apollo 11 landed on the moon the same year Marilyn Leek began working at Simpson College — 1969. 

She has worked in several positions and been under the administration of eight Simpson presidents. 

In her 50 years at Simpson, Leek has had experiences no one else has had. 

She was growing up in a time where women had limited opportunities to work outside the home, as many women were either nurses, teachers, wives and mothers.

“Today, there are a vast number of opportunities for young women coming right out of high school,” Leek said. “Many of them choose post-secondary education and have many different opportunities to them.” 

In the days before the internet and smartphones, Leek says her ability to communicate with faculty and get around her hometown of Omaha, Neb., were limited.

“When I left home I had to use public transportation in Omaha because I didn’t have a car,” she said. “The way I communicated with family was by letters or long-distance telephone calls.”

“The way I got home was by finding a ride with a friend,” Leek said. “Money was scarce.” 

Leek decided she wanted to do more. She pursued a business degree at Commercial Extension School of Commerce in Omaha — a nine-month secretarial-training course of study that she completed in six months.

Out of school, Leek began working as a clerk at Simpson in 1969. She worked her way up to being in charge of the National Defense Student Loan program for 15 years. 

She became the office secretary and later worked with the college’s chief financial officer. That led her to a job as director of procurement which she has held for the past 35 years. 

It was 1984 when Simpson’s then-president, Robert McBride, appointed Leek as the first director of purchasing. To this day, she is the only purchasing director Simpson has ever had. 

The title of director of purchasing was later changed to director of procurement, which she says was just a change in the way the college worded her position. 

While Leek’s work is largely in the background, it ultimately touches the lives and work of nearly all students, staff and faculty.

Today, she purchases furniture and other items to design the rooms on campus. That means she directly works with department heads at Simpson, contractors, architectural firms and interior designers. 

This position has led Leek to furnish every room on campus — except the Matthew Simpson room and the sanctuary in Smith Chapel. 

Over the years, she has received more responsibilities, including managing Simpson’s rental properties, managing surplus property, administering the credit-card program and other programs. Leek has often been assigned different tasks along the way.

Leek says the biggest thing that has changed over the years at Simpson is the advancement in technology. That has drastically changed the communication strategies she once used in her first few years at Simpson. 

One thing hasn’t changed. 

“The people, the buildings, students and the energy they bring to campus and new ideas,” she said.

While many people might have retired by this point in their career, Leek says she continues to work at Simpson because she likes higher education. 

“My job has always permitted me to work with students, faculty, staff, administrators and sometimes with the board of trustees,” Leek said. “And I work with professionals like architects and engineers.”

“Over the years, I have developed strategic partnerships with different vendors to be able to go to them when I need to buy products,” Leek said. “I always have something that I think is interesting to do, and I like learning about new things. I like new challenges.”

Leek said one of the accomplishments she is most proud of is donating some of Simpson’s surplus property to Teach For America, a nationwide program that places new college graduates in failing public school systems. 

Nicole Terrizzi, a 2008 Simpson alumna and former president of Student Government Association, entered Teach For America after she graduated from Simpson. During a return visit to campus, Terrizzi told stories and experiences of working for the program in Kansas City, Mo., classrooms that lacked basic necessities.

Terrizzi’s story touched Leek’s heart, and she knew she had to do something. Because Leek supervised Simpson’s surplus property, she was almost certain she could. 

Leek was able to send 30 tablet armchairs, 40 stack chairs, four student desks, one chalkboard and two bulletin boards to furnish a classroom or two. Simpson College transported the items to Terrizzi’s classroom in Kansas City. 

“Marilyn’s thoughtfulness and generosity had a lasting impact at CA Franklin Elementary,” said Terrizzi, who now lives in Oakland, Calif. and works as development director for Genesys Works — which provides work experience for disadvantaged high school students in the San Francisco Bay area. 

“Students who had been literally sitting in random mismatched chairs in the back of the classroom now had desks and a place to call their own,” Leek said

Outside of work, Leek is involved through the First United Methodist Church and community in Indianola. She has held many positions within the church and is the current treasurer of the United Methodist Women. 

Leek is also the chairperson of the Elizabeth-Ruth Circle. She has also held every leadership position within the Simpson Guild, which raises money for the college that goes mostly towards scholarships.  

A close friend and fellow Simpson staff member Marilyn Johnson, director of conferences and special events, describes Leek as, “intelligent, tenacious, thorough, energetic, fun, compassionate” and also by having a “wicked fun sense of humor.”

“I have had some emergencies in my life, and she was one of the first ones there to see what she could do to help,” Johnson said. She also described Leek as having “deep faith and zest for life.”

Johnson says Leek is an inspiration to her.

“She’s been at the college for a long time, but she still keeps it fresh and is always willing to learn new things,” she said. “That is an inspiration. This proves to me she loves Simpson College and bleeds red and gold. She has a wonderful wealth of college history.”

Johnson says Leek has been a witness to significant evolution at Simpson College and in higher education.

“She has seen a lot of changes throughout her career and her life, some rough times, personally and professionally and she persisted,” Johnson said. “She found a way to make things work. She always kept her ethics and morals in check.” 

The college recently planted a tree east of Hillman Hall in celebration of Leek’s 50 years of service. She has also received the Simpson College Achievement Award for Distinguished Community Service.