If you’ve ever seen him walking through campus, chances are it was deep in conversation. He loves that about Muhlenberg — the ability to walk the short distance from Haas to Seegers (or as he calls it, “The Union”) and bump into any number of people. He loves to say hello to everyone, even if he doesn’t know them by name. Quite humbly, he’ll admit that he knows nearly every one of the seven hundred College employees, hundreds of current students, and thousands of alumni; “I would venture to say I know as many alumni as our alumni office,” he says. It should come as no surprise, then, that many refer to him as the ‘Mayor of Muhlenberg.’
Of course, “he” is Mike Bruckner, Muhlenberg’s longtime public relations guru, and the current Vice President of External Affairs and Community Affairs. In March, Bruckner announced his retirement, ending a 39-year career in higher education, with 21 of them at Muhlenberg.
In those 21 years, Muhlenberg College has undergone many changes: four presidents, countless construction projects from dorms to the Life Sports Center and New-Sci. Faculty members and administrators have come and gone, and over 40,000 students have walked ‘through the red doors.’ But through it all, Bruckner has been one of the constants.
Life is a fortunate accident
“I’ve just had so many things happen to me, and I believe they happen for a reason,” said Bruckner, before running off the sequence of events that led him to Muhlenberg. “I’ve been really lucky and blessed.”
Initially, he was not accepted into the University of Rhode Island, and even after he was, the job he was promised at a local newspaper after graduation was eliminated. Bruckner adapted and changed career paths, focusing on athletic communication and spending more than a decade at the University of New Hampshire in that role.
Bruckner then worked for five years at Gehrung Associates, a higher-ed consulting firm. In 1996, however, he decided to return to a college campus. “I wanted to work at a place where I could make a difference,” said Bruckner, reflecting on his decision to join Muhlenberg. “As a group of senior staff, staff and faculty, we’ve made a difference in the College over the last twenty years, and have kept it going forward,” adding that he’s also enjoyed seeing an increase in student and faculty engagement in all aspects of campus life.
“People here just care”
The power of an individual, especially at a place like Muhlenberg, is something that Bruckner believes deeply in. “Muhlenberg is a place where one person with a passion can make a huge difference,” says Bruckner. “I can’t quite put a finger on it, but this place has a certain feeling. It’s part of our great student culture.” He proudly references the influences that his colleagues in Admissions, Development and the Career Center have on students’ daily lives.
Sometime during the presidency of Arthur Taylor (1992-2002), Muhlenberg became known as “The Caring College,” so much so that it was an unofficial College slogan. Although the phrase itself is mentioned less frequently, its message is still very much ingrained in the fabric of our campus.
Bruckner notes that in times of crisis, members of Muhlenberg community are always there to support each other. At the beginning of his time at Muhlenberg, Bruckner was notified of a car accident involving the women’s basketball team. “Anywhere else I’ve worked, there would’ve been a few people in the waiting room,” he said. “When I arrived, forty people were already there, and we drove the staff crazy.” He also recalled the unfortunate events of Sept. 11, 2001, and how people who didn’t even know one another shared hugs and words of support.
It’s moments like these — sometimes unfortunate, but somehow very rewarding — that Bruckner admits he’ll miss just as much as the joyous ones. “You can’t put a price tag on moments like that. It’s just an amazing part of Muhlenberg.”
The more joyous times are, of course, memorable as well. Bruckner recalled some lighthearted events, including serving as guest chef in the Garden Room (today’s Event Space) and making 400 milkshakes one night and stir fry with former Dean of Students Karen Green on another. He remembers building openings such as the Trexler Pavilion, when famous choreographer Gregory Hines performed with the College’s jazz tap ensemble. Of course, like anyone who was on campus during Randy Helm’s time as president, Bruckner remembers the many building openings and Helm’s affinity for costumes.
As the organizer of countless campus events, he looks back fondly on the challenges of producing political rallies — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Tim Kaine, to name a few — in just 48 hours, and the intricacies involved with College events such as presidential inaugurations, and commencement ceremonies with high-profile visits from celebrities like Muhammad Ali.
The power of relationships
Although the moments were nice, Bruckner knows that it’s the people and relationships that he will remember and miss the most. “Programs are nice, but programs and events don’t change people’s lives,” he says. “Relationships do, and I’ve always believed in the power of relationships.”
This power of relationships, Bruckner says, has had an incredible impact on his life, and feels fortunate to have had those mentors who have helped him along the way. He also believes that mentoring has no age barrier: “You are never too young to make a difference in someone else’s life. Mentoring comes in all shapes – RAs, student athletes, tutors — and with the right attitude on both sides, they can transform into important relationships.”
At his ‘Living on Purpose’ talk in March, Bruckner said that he “hopes and thinks” that he’s had an influence in a few people’s lives during his career. But, as noted before, Bruckner likely knows thousands of alumni, and it’s easy to say that many view him as an integral part of their Muhlenberg experience.
Elizabeth Einhorn ’05, one of Brucker’s many Presidential Assistants, says that he represents a mentor and close friend, something she feels is not uncommon for other alumni who know him. “The thing that’s so unique about Mike is that he’s genuine and supportive of everyone,” she says. “He’s someone who truly embodies the Muhlenberg community and spirit, and someone I’m very lucky to have as a role model.”
Although Bruckner’s official retirement begins at the end of June, his love of Muhlenberg means he’ll still be present on campus; he plans to attend as many athletic events as possible, even as he comes to know less and less of the athletes on the field. He’s also looking forward to spending more time with Jane, his wife of nearly 36 years, his two daughters, Katie and Jennifer, and his two grandsons.
For now, Bruckner is ready to retire, and he looks back on his time at Muhlenberg very fondly. “Hopefully I’m leaving the College in a better place than when I arrived,” he says. “The College has been here 170 years and will be here for another 170, and although I don’t expect anyone to remember me, it’s been a great run.”
The Weekly would like to thank Mike Bruckner for his help through the years and wish him the best in retirement.