by Louis Cicciarelli

In June of 2022, Sweetland celebrated the 42-year career and legacy of our key administrator and longtime colleague Colleen Lapere. Everyone who worked at Sweetland or interacted with her on our many projects and programs, knows the quality of Colleen’s kindness and care, her sharp, perceptive mind, and her heart. Colleen created a legacy at Sweetland, one of generosity and high standards, steadfast support for staff, faculty, and students, and an openness to new ideas and change. She was a creative, expansive, and reasonable presence as our lead administrator, always ready and willing to find a way as Sweetland developed new programs and initiatives that reached more students and instructors across campus. With her continuous and thoughtful leadership, the Sweetland Center for Writing grew into a national center.

Back when I started in 1999, when Sweetland was still on the main floor of Angell Hall, I shared an office, not far from Colleen’s office. At that point I had no idea what Colleen did or imagined how much we would work together over the next twenty years. I’ve witnessed the tremendous growth of our center in this time and the amazing qualities of Colleen’s wise, pragmatic guidance through our many changes and evolution. I also saw the ways Colleen helped protect the rights of workers–staff and a faculty composed of lecturers, before and after LEO contracts. Colleen stood with us and gave us the administrative support we needed to excel. The levelheaded stability she provided led to the center for writing that we have become.

I talked with several Sweetland staff and faculty to gather perspectives of the remarkable Colleen Lapere and what she has meant to the center, the people who work here, and the work we do for our students.

Teri Ford (start date: 1985)

She jumped in with both feet and was very kind. Far kinder than I was. Colleen was the one who held all the answers and I never remember her turning anyone away. You could go up and ask her a question–it’s easier, I’ll just go ask Colleen. And she was so accommodating, and that’s where her kindness came in. She was the Oz! If you didn’t know it, you’d go ask Colleen. If she didn’t know it, we would work together to get the answer. She was always someone you could turn to. I knew there was going to be such a void when she left.

Laura Schuyler (start date: 1997)

I feel like Colleen had a connection to everyone–whether it was the staff, the faculty, the interns, work study–I feel she was a part of everything that happened at Sweetland. She always had good relationships with our directors and other units, and that enabled us to interact constructively with everyone. It was great! Everyone knew her, everyone went through her, and she always had her finger on the pulse. And Colleen always had all the answers to the questions… she just had it at the tip of her tongue or the tip of her fingers, she always knew! She’s been here my whole time and we’ve always been together. 

George Cooper (start date: 1985)

Colleen was already at the English Composition Board when I arrived there in 1985. At that time we were both young, bright and beautiful. I liked her immediately. And with her and some of the other young staff members we often talked about the older, cantankerous, office manager who made rules for us to follow and reminded us in no uncertain terms when we had not properly abided by them. We liked young, bright and beautiful better. Throughout the following years as Colleen traveled up in stature I don't recall that she ever became cantankerous. In fact, she was always on my side, and I like to think on the side of all the lecturers, young and old. Although she worked on both sides, Colleen, as much as humanly possible, remained objective in her administrative decisions. Nor did she ever become old.

Naomi Silver (start date: 2004)

I got to know Colleen more directly, meeting with her and Martha Vicinus, when I became Associate Director. I feel like Colleen is a really responsible person, flexible, and down to earth.She was supportive of rethinking lecturer’s roles and improving professional development and opportunities to pursue interests and things that people cared about within the framework of teaching at Sweeland. She was open and thoughtful and willing to change processes or put in place new processes. And she was also just super knowledgeable about the structures that were in place, why they were, and how they were helpful–and when they were not helpful, she was also willing to ask questions and see if we could change things. She did a lot of research around different issues to make things better for the people connected with Sweetland at all levels, undergraduate through staff and faculty. Colleen cared a lot about the people she worked with and took her role as a supervisor and mentor for other staff really seriously and tried to work with them to have their jobs be the best they could be.

Gina Brandolino (start date: 2009)

Colleen is basically the personification of everything Sweetland stands for or, really even more, strives to be: helpful, practical, knowledgeable, friendly, and also fun. I feel like we owe it to her to do our best to fill the hole she left with those same qualities, and I hope we're doing all right at that.

Ray McDaniel (start date: 1995)

I first met Colleen when I was 23 and still somewhat overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the University of Michigan and its bureaucracies. She made an enormous world feel small and homelike, because she knew everything; she knew how everything worked. Decades later I appreciate how extraordinary and vanishly rare that depth and breadth of knowledge was. It shouldn't have been possible, and it surely far exceeded what she should have been required to know. But what's even more remarkable is that not only did she know how everything worked, she always empathized with the position, perspective, and needs of every single person at every stage and level of the operation of that enormous machine. Her knowledge was astonishing; her compassion was an inspiration. Colleen never had to do as much as well as she did; she did it anyway. Sweetland works, certainly with the spirit that suffuses it, because she did.

T Hetzel (start date: 2009)

Colleen was our institutional knowledge and our guide–from trouble-shooting on any given day to being the main support when life emergencies collided with work responsibilities. Colleen also advocated for new ideas she saw had potential. She saw Sweetland for what it is: a vast, dynamic, ever-changing place that was made up of real folks; over all these years, she showed us that she cared for and believed in the work of Sweetland and its people. I want to do my part in the years ahead to keep Sweetland going and growing. 

Colleen will always be our valued and loved colleague–and an epic figure in our shared history together.