Dr. Chris Domes, President of Silver Lake College, and his wife, Mary, say the people in this community "are very genuine, open and friendly. They’re trustworthy and caring.”
By Benjamin Wideman / Director of Media Relations
Most people here take friendly hand waves for granted.
Not Dr. Chris Domes and his wife, Mary.
After spending 17 years living and working among the hustle and bustle in the Washington, D.C., area, Chris and Mary say the friendly waves they give and receive on a daily basis are among the many things they embrace about life on the Lakeshore.
“It may seem like a small thing, but we really love the fact that people wave to each other,” said Chris, adding with a smile and laugh, “That kind of hand gesture wasn’t exactly part of the Washington, D.C., scene. They had different gestures there. People were all business.
“It’s just very different here in Manitowoc — it’s more like the small towns Mary and I are from in western New York. People here are very genuine, open and friendly. They’re trustworthy and caring.”
Those same words describe Chris and Mary, who have enjoyed being active community members ever since moving to Manitowoc 2½ years ago when Chris was named the 10th president of Silver Lake College.
“We were both raised in small towns where we knew everyone and everyone knew us,” Mary said. “Here, even though nobody knew us when we arrived, right away we felt like we’ve known people for years because everyone is so welcoming. We feel so comfortable and are happy to have met so many kind people we now call friends — both at the college and in the community.”
In addition to their responsibilities on campus, Chris and Mary serve on the board of the United Way of Manitowoc County; in 2014, they co-chaired the United Way’s 2014 campaign. Their ongoing relationship with United Way is a “gift,” they said, because it enables them to learn more about area non-profit groups and the things that drive the community.
Chris, a native of Sardinia, N.Y., also is a member of the Manitowoc Noon Rotary, and he recently was appointed to the Talent Development & Planning Committee on behalf of the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment.
Meanwhile, Mary, a former longtime teacher from Great Valley, N.Y., volunteers with the college’s Backpack Book Club, which helps children at Jefferson and Franklin elementary schools practice their reading; serves on the Manitowoc Public Library Foundation Board; and volunteers at the college’s Zigmunt Library. Mary also takes piano lessons at Holy Family Conservatory with Sister Rosaire Pigeon, and is a member of two book clubs and a women’s educational organization.
The Backpack Book Club is especially meaningful to Mary, who served as an elementary school teacher for 28 years and was a coordinator for Literacy Collaborative, a comprehensive school literacy program.
“When we first moved here, I thought, ‘How can I make a difference in the community?’ ” Mary said. “I have a passion for literacy, so I was excited to find out about the Backpack Book Club. So many of our students help the children, and that’s great to be a part of. Anything I can do to make a difference and help in local schools and the community, I’m all for it.”
In their spare time, they enjoy biking and walking on Mariners Trail, watching shows at the Capitol Civic Centre, attending area festivals and farmers markets, dining at area restaurants, sampling the ice cream at Cedar Crest, shopping at places like Schroeder’s Department Store, and exploring local attractions such as the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and the Rahr-West Art Museum. Soon, they’d like to take a ride aboard the S.S. Badger car ferry.
Being interwoven in the fabric of the Lakeshore — on both a personal and professional level — comes naturally for Chris and Mary.
“I grew up in a household where parents instilled in us the importance of being involved in community,” Chris said. “My parents have been involved in their church, their historical society, local organizations. So that’s how I looked at the world when I was growing up. Coming here, it seemed like a good fit to do that here also. And it was easy since people were so inviting.”
And, since Silver Lake College is such an integral part of the community, Chris added that being involved in area activities serves as a positive example for the students, staff and faculty. “That’s a responsibility we have as a college, and me as its president, to really emphasize the importance of community involvement. As Silver Lake College continues to grow as a residential campus, our engagement with the community will strengthen.”
Under Chris’ leadership — and in collaboration with a strong team of faculty and staff, and a great partnership with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity — Silver Lake College is experiencing impressive growth. Each of the past two years, U.S. News & World Report honored SLC as one of the Top 100 Regional Colleges in the Midwest.
In fall 2016, Silver Lake College will launch a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to help fulfill a rapidly increasing need for nurses both locally and beyond.
The college also is on track to become the first in Wisconsin — and the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States — to adopt the Work College model. All incoming full-time, residential students will be required to work, which reduces their student debt and, more importantly, helps prepare them for a 21st century work environment.
Athletics also is growing. The college met earlier this week with leaders of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) regarding membership, which could start as soon as next school year.
And the college continues to attract students from throughout Wisconsin, as well as other states and nations.
“Small cities with a college or university are more likely to benefit economically and culturally,” Chris said. “We clearly appreciate and understand that the college has a significant role to play in supporting the needs of the region. We are celebrating our 80th anniversary this year, so we’ve been a big part of the community for a long time.”
Chris and Mary are excited to play a part in the development of both Silver Lake College and the community for years to come.
“There’s a quality of life here that you can’t get in many places,” Chris said. “It has been a very positive experience for us, and we’re looking forward to the future here.”
Added Mary: “There’s a true generosity of spirit with everyone we meet — a welcoming nature, a kindness, a warmth. And there’s a pride in this community. We feel this community is a real gem, and we couldn’t be happier.”