On her first day of work at Baylor University’s School of Education (SOE), Darlene Kyser sat in a small, musty room on the third floor of Pat Neff Hall, surrounded by old books, typing up permanent record cards on an electric typewriter.
“I went home and told my husband, Don, I just did not think it was going to work out,” Kyser reminisces with a soft laugh. “But Don said, ‘Why don’t you give it a couple of days?’ So I did, and here I am 50 years later.”
Now Kyser sits tall in a black chair at a wooden desk in her spacious office in Marrs McLean Science — a shift from the closet room where she worked decades ago. Kyser, assistant to the dean of Baylor’s School of Education, manages the day-to-day meetings, conferences and schedule of the dean. She also assists with faculty search committees, communicates university-wide policies and procedures to SOE faculty and staff, and hosts annual dean events. In September 2017, Kyser celebrated 50 years in the SOE, and at the end of October, she will retire.
“Baylor’s a wonderful place to be. My favorite part about working here is the environment; it has kept me young,” Kyser says, touching her short, brown hair before pausing and smiling. “Mentally, not physically,” she adds.
Kyser has witnessed five decades of Baylor history. Her employment spanned six university presidents, seven SOE deans and four interim deans, and countless changes at the University. Kyser watched staff and student dress code changes from required skirts or dresses with pantyhose to slacks, and eventually to blue jeans and shorts for students. She remembers the establishment of three libraries and many new buildings, Baylor’s first computer systems, the refurbishment of Burleson Hall and Old Main, the infamous Miracle on 5th Street dance, and Baylor’s football evolution from the pre-Grant Teaff era to Robert Griffin III.
“Baylor’s grown so much,” Kyser says. “But, I can’t really say the student body has changed a lot. Although each generation is a little bit different, they’re still the top quality students that they always have been.”
Terrill Saxon, Ph.D., School of Education interim dean (2017-present), has known Kyser since he was a master’s student at Baylor in 1989. He says, “Darlene has a presence, and she works hard every day. She’s consistent, reliable, an amazing communicator, and has great relationships with everyone.”
Kyser says she feels like she has had several different jobs. “Each dean has a different administration style, so I tried very hard to adapt to their style and not think that the way we’d done things in the past was the only way,” Kyser says.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person or a better professional partner,” says Jon M. Engelhardt, Ph.D. (SOE dean 2007-2015). “You need to be the same person day after day so people know who to expect, and Darlene’s that person. Even on a bad day, she’s a good person.”
Framed and hanging on the wall behind Kyser’s right shoulder is an Outstanding Staff Award certificate from 1988. The annual award recognizes exceptional Baylor staff members who serve the university, their community, and their church with excellence.
Next to Kyser’s staff award is a 1998 Alumni-by-Choice Award. Kyser did not attend Baylor, but the glass-covered certificate attests that she loves the green and gold as dearly as any proud member of the Baylor Line.
Kyser and her husband have two sons, both of whom attended Baylor and live in the Dallas area with their families. Their son Kevin graduated with a BBA and married a Baylor alumna, and their other son, Keith, who also married a Baylor alumna, started his undergraduate education at Baylor before transferring. Kyser’s grandsons Kaleb and Chandler are Baylor alumni who both married Baylor SOE graduates. In August 2018, her grandson Max will enroll as a freshman.
In honor of Kyser as a mother and an honorary member of the Baylor Line, her son established a scholarship within the Hankamer School of Business in Kyser’s name. The plague hangs on a wall in the heart of campus at the Bill Daniel Student Center.
Kyser grew up in Waco with a father who loved Baylor’s football team and grandparents who lived on 8th Street near the edge of campus. Kyser recalls attending games at Floyd Casey Stadium and spending hours roller-skating around the driveway of Armstrong Browning Library with her grandfather.
“Baylor really was a big part of the community,” Kyser says. “I remember having student-teachers in my classroom and the Baylor professors coming in and visiting with them.”
She graduated from University High School and studied teaching at Abilene Christian University briefly before returning to Waco. She married her high school sweetheart, and they settled down in Waco.
Kyser started at Baylor as a secretary working with student teachers and teacher-certification. She also assisted the SOE dean, M. L. Goetting, Ph.D. (1957-1971), with student advising and registration. Goetting advised students in the hallway of Pat Neff as Kyser pulled their academic files.
Later, Goetting and Kyser registered students in Russell Gym alongside every department and school within the university. Students received an IBM punch card for each class in which they enrolled.
In 1974, Kyser was promoted to assistant to the dean, and her duties expanded to include assisting the dean in all areas.
When Dr. Engelhardt prepared to retire in 2015, Kyser contemplated leaving as well.
“I didn’t think it was fair to have a new dean come in with no one to help him get accustomed to Baylor,” Kyser says. “But I told Don, I bet there’s going to be one candidate whom I’m going to fall in love with, and, sure enough, I did — Michael McLendon.”
Michael McLendon, Ph.D., joined the SOE in 2015 and asked Kyser to stay as his assistant.
“I remain grateful for each day of her service and for the remarkable legacy of love, laughter and leadership she provided Baylor’s School of Education,” McLendon says. “We will never see another one like her. Baylor will miss her too much to say.”
After two years leading the SOE, McLendon became Baylor’s interim provost in July 2017, and Saxon stepped into the role of interim dean. Feeling confident in the future of the SOE, Kyser decided she was ready for her next season of life.
“[Dr. Saxon] is doing a great job at being the interim, so the School is going to be in really good hands,” Kyser says.
Kyser leans back into the chair and smiles. “For a while, I’m just going to be in charge of my own schedule,” she says. The Kysers plan to travel and focus on time with their family through the upcoming holiday season.
Kyser looks around her office and then glances out into the open dean’s office space. “I really feel like it’s time to retire, but I plan to stay in touch and visit,” she says. “This has been such a special place for me; it’s been my home for 50 years.”
—by Molly Meeker
Photograph by Robbie Rogers
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ABOUT BAYLOR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.