Nancy Gerou was pretty certain that her days in higher education were over. It was 1980. She had previously received an EdD in education from the University of Colorado and worked on that campus. Now at Oregon State, she was weary of the highly bureaucratized environment of large state schools. “I was just done,” she says. “I thought, ‘This really isn’t much fun.’” She left to start a new life, running a coffee house and selling real estate.
But then, seven years later, she came across a job opening for director of university sports at Seattle University. (In those days intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports were under one umbrella.) “I thought, ‘Hmm, small, private…’ I learned what the Jesuits were all about and the values and the mission of the institution. I came and I walked around the campus and there was just this energy, and I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’”
Gerou will retire in August after serving the university for 23 years in myriad capacities. You would be hard-pressed to find an area in athletics or student development that she has not been involved with or impacted in some way during her time at SU. After heading up the sports program for six years, she was appointed assistant vice president for student development in 1993. Her job has changed virtually every year since then. She would later return to university sports as interim director on two separate occasions for a total of four years—the first time while also continuing to serve as assistant vice president. These days, as assistant vice president, she is primarily responsible for overseeing the division’s operations.
Vice President of Student Development Jake Diaz, says, “(Gerou’s) career communicates a powerful story. It is one evidenced by deep care for students and their personal and professional success. It is clear that she has touched the lives of many with her leadership and we will miss her presence deeply as she transitions to this next phase of her life.”
Reminiscing about her initial impressions of the university, Gerou recalls with amazement what to her was a refreshing lack of red tape. “If the hot water wasn’t working, I’d pick up the phone and call Facilities, and they’d be over in the afternoon and fix it. I thought ‘What? Are you kidding me? I don’t have to fill out seven forms?’”
It also didn’t take her long to appreciate SU’s tight-knit and friendly community. “I still marvel at that today. I like to walk across campus and just smile at everybody, because people smile back at you. You don’t do that at the University of Colorado and Oregon State, because they’ll think you’re nuts.”
While Gerou looks back fondly on the entirety of her time at SU, the first six years in university sports remain her favorites. She inherited a difficult situation in 1987. A consultant had just completed a one-year study of the sports program, which led to a task force making 19 recommendations for the department. “It was in pretty bad shape. It was a department of about 14 people that didn’t talk to each other.” And then there were the facilities. Although the Connolly Center was just 18 years old at the time, the building was already in need of renewal.
Gerou led an upgrade of the center as well as construction of the tennis courts and what today is known as Championship Field. Morale in the department also improved as Gerou’s open-door policy and frequent impromptu visits with colleagues helped create a strong esprit de corps among the staff. “We just knew each other really well down there (Connolly). We were almost a family.”
Great results would follow, perhaps most notably the two national championships the men’s soccer program won in 1997 and 2004.
Asked what advice she would give her successor, Gerou responds: “Trust those around you. Have fun. Be humble. I think there’s a lot to be said for servant-leadership.”
As for her future plans, Gerou says she’s staying in the area. “I have a workshop at home and do woodworking. So I hope to improve my expertise in making furniture. I’ll probably do a little more local traveling, more trips to Colorado to visit family.”
Ready as she is to retire, there’s some sadness, too. Gerou tears up while talking about what SU has meant to her. “It’s been a great 23 years. I just love Seattle University. I’ve never thought for one minute of leaving.”