Grand Rapids Community College students, faculty and staff are remembering Student Life Office Manager Molly Maczka, who died Oct. 26 of a heart attack at age 53. A funeral is set for 11 a.m. tomorrow, Nov. 3, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 1935 Plymouth Ave SE.
Maczka was on vacation in St. Lucia, Caribbean with her husband and 12 other couples. She is survived by her husband, Jim, and her three kids: Ceci, 26, Evan, 23, and Lilly, 20.
Maczka started working at GRCC in 1991 as a tuition clerk. She moved her way up throughout the years and eventually took some time off to be with her family. In 2008, she became the office manager in Student Life. Since then, she has affected hundreds of students, faculty and staff across campus.
“She managed more budgets on campus than any other support professional,” said Eric Mullen, director of enrollment at GRCC, who hired Maczka when she joined the Student Life staff. Mullen said part of Maczka’s job at GRCC was to manage the “multi-million dollar” Student Life budget.
Maczka handled between 70-80 budgets, Mullen said, making her a point person for many students across campus.
One of the first things GRCC student and StandOut President Beau Vansolkema noticed about Maczka was how hard of a worker she was.
“Molly went above and beyond in just her job as an office manager,” Vansolkema said. “Not only was she the central system in how this department worked, but she was also the glue to it, too.”
Vansolkema said Maczka often cracked jokes with when it was time to turn in a flood of club forms.
“It got to the point where she wouldn’t even come out of her office anymore with her hand on her hip and say, ‘Damn it, Beau’ to me,’” Vansolkema laughed. “She would just yell it from her desk.”
Vansolkema said many students, including himself, viewed Maczka as a second mom.
“I viewed Molly as kind of like a mom, especially after I lost my own mother earlier this year,” Vansolkema said.
As StandOut President, Vansolkema said Maczka was always very accepting of any students, including the LGBT community.
“Molly was a true definition of an ally,” Vansolkema said. “A lot of us forget how important allies really are because they are the ones that kind of fill in that gap … An ally is someone who gets in that line of fire with you.”
Misty McClure-Anderson, executive assistant to the GRCC president, worked with Maczka back in the 90s. The women were also neighbors and Maczka watched her children at some points.
“She has played many roles in my life just depending on who I needed at the time, friend, co-worker, big sister, mother, etc.,” McClure-Anderson said. “She was down to earth and would never think she was making a difference in so many people’s lives as she was just ‘being Molly.’”
“She treated everyone so kind, yet was able to tell it like it was even if you didn’t want to hear it, with a smile and laugh,” McClure-Anderson said. “Which is something that not everyone can pull off.”
“She always stepped up and did whatever needed to be done. She just always went the extra mile, especially for the underdog, because she always felt like she was one.”
Many students go in and out of the Student Life office on a daily basis. A lot of these students, whether being part of a club or as a student employee, spent a lot of time with Maczka. Many students say she was someone to talk to for advice or if you just needed a smile that day.
“Molly was like another mother to me,” said GRCC student and Student Life employee Giancarlo Hernandez. He said Maczka was the one who hired him three years ago.
“She wouldn’t close the door to anyone,” Hernandez said. “If you needed help, she went out of her way to help you.”
Hernandez said he and another student, both GRCC basketball players, used to work in the office together, and Maczka would often buy them food if they were hungry.
“We always called her mom and she’d call us her son,” Hernandez said. “She never let us go hungry, always had something nice to say, something witty.”
Hernandez said she was his go-to person for any question he had, or advice he needed.
“She never said ‘no’ once,” Hernandez said. “Before she went on vacation, I spoke to her about school and my life and it was a good conversation of everything that was going on at the time. She was telling me how she needed this vacation and she wanted to take a break from all her work.”
“I didn’t know that would be the last time I spoke with her, but it wasn’t a bad last time,” Hernandez said.
Ask anyone, and they will tell you Maczka was always rooting for the underdog.
“She was warm, she was welcome,” Mullen said. “She had a knack for always looking out for the underdog, students who didn’t always find ready connections. You’d see those students in her doorway. She formed those relationships and supported young people, (and) returning adult students by giving them affirmations, encouraging them to do well, following up on them. It was just kind of her way.”
Mullen said Maczka was instrumental in getting the college’s food pantry off the ground.
“It was a project that was very important to her,” Mullen said. “She was always looking out for people.”
Evan Macklin, GRCC student orientation coordinator, worked closely with Maczka when he was assistant director of Student Life.
“Molly will be greatly missed,” Macklin said. “She was authentic, honest, and cared so deeply for students. Some referred to her as their ‘at-school mom’ or ‘at-work mom’ because she was so nurturing. Her laughter was contagious and her wit always made days go by so smoothly. The campus will not be the same without her, particularly campus events where we could always count on her energy to make the experience ten times better for our students.”
Maczka’s husband Jim Maczka said he and his wife were married 30 years.
“We really were happy 100 percent of the time we were married,” he said. “I’m going to remember her as the best person I’ve ever known.”
Maczka liked to play cards, cook, and spend time with her family. They developed strong relationships with their kids – and that was important to her, Jim Maczka said.
Jim said his wife was always taking care of people, at GRCC and within her family.
“She would always outreach to people and bring them in, make them feel comfortable,” he said. “She was always trying to help the underdog.”
“She always bought things for students and made sure the pantry was full.”
Mullen said the college will greatly miss Maczka.
“We’re stunned and heartbroken,” Mullen said. “Someone that was so vibrant and such a vital part of our community, she was taken from us too quickly.”
Visitation was held this afternoon and is scheduled for 6 – 8 p.m. this evening at the O’Brien Gerst Funeral Home, 3980 Cascade Rd SE. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Nov. 3, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 1935 Plymouth Ave SE, Grand Rapids.
This story was updated at 6:06 p.m. to include an additional comment.