Faculty image Russell W. Reister Personnel Officer, Head of Plant Department Plant Department

Personnel Officer

After hearing the following recommendation by the Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer concerning the appointment of the Personnel Officer for the University, the Regents appointed Mr. Russell W. Reister to the post:

Since the resignation of Mr. Charles Allmand as Personnel Officer for the University some weeks ago, we have been considering the nature of the position and its responsibilities today and in the future. We have also been considering individuals on the staff of the University at the present time who are qualified to be considered for the position and the possibility of an appointment to the position from outside the University.

We have concluded that Mr. Russell Reister is the best-qualified individual for appointment to the position of Personnel Officer for the University.

Mr. Reister will be thirty-six years of age this June and is a native of Grandville, Michigan. He transferred from Grand Rapids Junior College to The University of Michigan and graduated from the School of Business Administration in 1954 with a major in personnel management. From 1954 to 1956 he was in the Army, and upon discharge from the Army he returned to the Fisher Body Division of General Motors in Flint as a production foreman, following a few months as a supervisory trainee at Fisher Body prior to entering the Army for his military service.

Mr. Reister joined the University as Employment Supervisor at the University Hospital in 1957. He performed very satisfactorily in this position, and when Mr. Allmand resigned in 1959 as Personnel Officer at the University Hospital to become an instructor in the School of Business Administration. Mr. Reister was appointed Personnel Officer at the University Hospital. When the position of Manager of Staff Benefits Office became vacant in 1961. Mr. Reister was appointed Manager of the Staff Benefits Office of the University, and during the past 4½ years he has performed in an outstanding manner as manager of this office.

During Mr. Reister's employment at the University he has maintained his relationships with the hospital associations in Michigan and the Middle West and has taken part in many University-wide activities. He has participated in the personnel conferences of the Michigan Hospital Association regularly and on the campus has taken part in the training programs we have carried out for our supervisory staff.

This last fall Mr. Reister was a lecturer in insurance at the Dearborn Campus. Since 1961-62 Mr. Reister has been taking graduate courses in the School of Business Administration, working toward a Master of Business Administration degree, and has done very well in courses on insurance, retirement plans, statistics, and related courses.

Regents’ Proceedings, April 1966, Page 1341



I started my University career as “Employment Supervisor” at the University Hospital (Old Main) in 1957. Two years later I was promoted to Personnel Director of the Hospital. I was twenty-nine years old with a short, blond brush cut and looked like a 19 year old. When I attended national meetings people were surprised that this young boy represented one of the major hospitals in the country. It was a great experience.

Vice President Wilber Pierpont held monthly meetings with the heads of all the auxiliary units of the University (hospital, athletics, housing, Union and the League) to hear reports and discuss the business of the School. Dr. Kerlikowske, the Director of the Hospital, took me to these meetings as the first rumblings of unionization at the University began. Being a freshly minted graduate of the Business School in Industrial Relations, I (of course), thought I should share my vast knowledge on the subject. After we returned to the Hospital Dr. Kerli called me into his office, walked around his desk, and stood behind me with a fatherly hand on my shoulder and suggested that when Vice President Pierpont spoke, I should listen. Lesson learned!

Probably as a result of the exposure I received at these meetings, Vice President Pierpont asked that I take over the Benefits Office in 1961. I had made wonderful friendships at the Hospital but this move provided a chance to become part of the larger business staff at the University. It was a great opportunity to manage a complex benefits program. The University was way ahead of the curve in providing a defined contribution pension plan to the faculty. We were the first and largest participant in the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association created by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation in 1919. Today many employers are adopting this type of pension as it precludes the possibility of large unfunded liabilities.

In the early sixties Vice President Pierpont decided that we should provide all of the staff with the same plan as the faculty and we converted everyone from the Employee Retirement Program to TIAA-CREF. At the time, because of astute investing of the ERP Funds, each employee received a 40% dividend of their equity that was transferred to TIAA-CREF. This was characteristic of Pierpont, who during his tenure as VP would make every effort to maintain the salary and benefits of the non-academic staff with the rest of the University.

During this time and into the eighties the primary cost of university benefits was the retirement program. Today, health insurance has become the most costly program in the benefit package. My recollection is that TIAA Major Medical for a family cost $10.00 per month if combined with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which cost $28.00 per month for a family plan. So much for the good old days!

In 1966 the Personnel Director’s position was left open when Charles Allmand moved to the University of California. I was given the opportunity to bid on the position and succeeded. Public employees had recently been granted the privilege of collective bargaining, and as a result, the Personnel Department experienced growth as we geared up to deal with union negotiations and the daily grievance activity. Because of this rapid growth we were able to staff the department with many young and well qualified people.

We were recognized as one of the leading personnel departments in the country and had a number of our staff move on to high level positions at Stanford, Rochester, N.Y., Massachusetts General, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Northern Michigan and more.

One of the problems we faced was that public unions did not have to “bargain at arm’s length” with their employer. The unions elected legislators, regents, city councils and county commissioners and these politicians were beholden to the people who elected them. During one of the first strikes by our employees we were told by one of our Regents to back off, don’t bargain so hard. We were trying to not give away the outhouse and keep the University running. Today, we see the same thing occurring with the Regents supporting the unionization of student assistants, while the Administration and Faculty oppose such a move.

The problem with public employee unions and the salary and benefits they have been given by their union elected employers have now come home to roost. Many cities, counties and states are burdened by debts that they have no way of paying off.

Early in my tenure as Personnel Director there was considerable student unrest. On one occasion the students had occupied the Administration Building and the University closed the building. My office was on the first floor in the north east corner of the building. I was able to get into my office by climbing through the window. This allowed me to observe the debates that occurred in the lobby of the building between Professor William Haber who was negotiating for the University and his son who was one of the student leaders of the sit-in - a fascinating experience. This all happened in the old administration building which was fondly known as the salmon loaf because of the color of the brick (now used by LS&A).

As a result of the student unrest the new Fleming Building had no windows on the first floor. It was affectionately called the Fortress. When the building was opened I had the privilege of being the first occupant, I was in room 4040. It was a spacious corner office with windows that looked like gun slots. Before additional staff moved in the stillness was weird. I could hear a conversation from the far corner of the building.

During the seventies the University engaged a consulting firm (Hayes/Hill) to do a comprehensive wage and salary study of all non-faculty and non-union positions. The study was to determine the duties of each position and determine an appropriate salary based on benchmarking with like positions in local and national labor markets. One of the major problems was the inconsistencies in how various departments described their jobs. Some would make low level jobs sound like they were executive assistants and others would make executive secretaries sound like mere clerks. And, of course, everyone thought they were under paid. There was considerable consternation and a great deal of animosity expressed toward the Personnel Department. In order to get me from being the focal point of all the criticism Vice President Pierpont appointed a committee to oversee the project and diffuse the frustration aimed at the Personnel Department. We eventually completed the study and implemented the plan. It was not perfect, but it eliminated some of the inequities that had existed previously.

In 1979 I was asked to become Director of Plant Operations. This was a significant change for me, in that I went from a staff position where I recommended policies for the University, to a line operation where I was responsible for managing a major department.

My initiation as Plant Director was literally a baptism under fire. During my first days in my new position a disturbed grad student torched the old Economics Building. I quickly learned about freeze drying books and papers that had been soaked during the blaze. We also used a hyperbolic chamber to preserve some of the material. It was a dramatic way to start my new job.

During my years in the Personnel Department I had encouraged tighter control of the amount of sick time that some of our staff used. When I moved to the Plant Department I was able to implement my ideas. Basically this meant demonstrating genuine concern for the health and well-being of our staff, and showing them how important they were to our organization. I wanted the staff to understand that we didn’t function as well when they were absent. During my first year as Plant Director, with a staff of 1,200 in the department, we reduced the amount of sick time used by a quarter of a million dollars. As a result of this success we hired a nurse to serve the Plant Department exclusively. She was able to establish a great rapport with our staff and was able to keep many employees on the job when they might have otherwise stayed home.

One of the early realizations that I had about our staff was that they genuinely wanted to do their very best in maintaining the University Physical facilities. They were frustrated when we didn’t have the funds to do a first class job. Many of our trades’ people could truly be considered “old world” craftsmen. They were able to repair or replace many of the old building features that made them so aesthetically special. These old buildings also presented us with many difficult mechanical problems.

Some of the most frustrating problems were caused by the constant pressure to reduce our budget. At one point, we could no longer paint the office and classroom spaces and only provided the service if a school or department could pay for the work. We also stopped washing windows and sold all the equipment used to do so. This was very discouraging for us and we received many complaints about this lack of service. Other reductions meant cleaning offices and classrooms less frequently. And perhaps the most insidious aspect of the budget restriction was witnessing the ever increasing amount of deferred maintenance. One of the main reasons for this, other than State appropriation restrictions, was the addition of new buildings without the commensurate funding for maintenance.

There was inherent danger in some of the maintenance tasks, especially high voltage electrical and high pressure steam work. Maybe the most frightening experience I had was going into the collapsed steam tunnel caused by construction of the new Chemistry Bldg. I went into the tunnel and saw steam escaping from broken pipes and electrical wires dangling. I gave the order to get all of our staff out immediately. The area looked like a war zone.

The University Master Plan called for a mall to run from the Rackham Building to the Graduate Library. This required closing Ingalls Street and losing the parking it provided. Miss Wilma Steketee, the Manager of the League was apoplectic. Her customers would have no place to park and she would lose a lot of her luncheon business. In spite of her complaints the project was completed and Ingalls Mall became reality. During the early years we were able to plant large beds of tulips thanks to a gift from the Dutch Government. My beloved assistant, Mindert Vander Kooy, also served as a Dutch consulate in that country’s Detroit office. It helps to have friends in high places. In addition to beautifying the campus, the mall now serves as home to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. 

Later we closed East University Street, north of South University, and created a pedestrian mall which also enhanced the aesthetics of campus.

The Law Library has always been a special jewel on campus. It reached the point of needing more space but many felt that an addition would spoil the appearance, so the decision was made to go underground - three levels underground. The night before the new addition was to be dedicated we had a torrential rain storm in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, the contractor responsible for grading the area around and over the new facility had piled dirt higher than the window ledge around the sky light. As a result we had a waterfall cascading down three floors of the light well, over many stacks of books, to the bottom floor of the library. I received a call at the bowling alley to meet Paul Spradlin immediately at the library. We quickly identified the problem and with our bare hands we dug trenches to divert the water away from the sky light. The Building Services staff worked all night and the dedication went off as scheduled the next morning.

On another occasion the University purchased a large volume of books for the library from a southern location. These books were stored in one of the Argus buildings. It was later discovered that in addition to the books we had also imported a colony of brown recluse spiders. We sealed the building and fumigated it twice. Then during the winter we shut off the heat hoping we could freeze them. In the spring Paul Spradlin and I ventured into the building very cautiously. It was like going into a haunted house. We assumed the spiders were dead and the books were eventually moved.

In 1991, we were honored to have President George H. W. Bush give the spring commencement address. This was to take place in the stadium. Our only problem was that the stadium floor was torn up in preparation for the new turf to be installed. The solution, cover the whole field with plywood. We probably purchased all the available plywood in the area. After the event we had to store all these 4’x8’ sheets. It presented a bit of a problem.

For the event we had set the speaker’s platform at the north end of the stadium. When the Secret Service arrived they told us it would have to be moved near the tunnel so the President could be evacuated if necessary. The change was made and all went well with the ceremony. Gratification came as I received a gracious note of thanks from the President.

Sometimes our problems were fixed easily and the outcomes could be most pleasant. On the afternoon of March 27, 1986 I received a call from Gail Rector, President of the University Musical Society. He sounded worried and asked if I would come over to Hill Auditorium that afternoon.

When I met him he explained that Andrés Segovia was performing that evening and we needed to eliminate all extraneous sounds during the concert. We proceeded to go on stage where he asked me if I could hear “that C flat”. I did not know a C flat from an A sharp, but I told him I did hear a humming sound. As we listened more intently, we determined that the sound was coming from the back of the second balcony, in the far corner of the auditorium where an exhaust fan was running. I arranged to have the fan shut off and the auditorium fell silent.

That evening, before the concert, Gail brought Andrés Segovia to our seats and introduced him to my wife and me. What a marvelous gesture and a thrill for us. And of course, the music was extraordinary. A solo guitar filled that great hall with beautiful melodies. During the quiet moments between numbers you could hear a pin drop. The auditorium was beautifully silent. No C flat could be heard. Mission accomplished.

Parking operations were part of Plant Operations. It seemed that everyone expected to park at the front door of their office and eventually the University was forced to increase the number of parking spaces. Explaining the high cost of parking structures was always a difficult problem. Each time parking permit prices went up so did the volume of complaints.

One of the more fascinating parts of our operation was the heating plant. In 1968 the plant was converted from coal to natural gas. This change was prompted by complaints of the smoke and soot falling on the surrounding area. Now what you see rising from the smoke stack is mostly steam. In addition to being gas fired the plant is also a co-generation facility. The high pressure steam goes first to the turbines that generate electricity and then to the buildings on Central Campus to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. The latter is possible by using steam absorption air conditioning units.

One of the more gratifying tasks in my tenure as Plant Director was creating a small park for our staff to eat their lunch and take breaks. There was a small parking lot behind our office on Hoover Street. One day we had a fortuitous break in a steam line under that black-top. As a result of this break we had to tear up the parking lot. Rather than repaving the area, we planted some grass and shrubs. Voila!  We had a mini-park.

At a later date, while I was on vacation, the staff with the guidance of Fred Mayer and the skill of a German blacksmith in our department fabricated and placed a wrought iron sign in our park. It read “Der Reister Platz.”

During my retirement furlough year (1991-1992) I attempted to have the Fresh Air Camp at Patterson Lake converted to a camp for severely ill and disabled children. The Hospital was sending ventilator dependent children to camps that were long distances from Ann Arbor and their families. Converting the Patterson Lake facility would be an ideal way to use the property. We had numerous meetings with our engineering staff and their hospital counterparts. In the end we could not find a way to finance the project. However, today the project has been resurrected and construction has begun on the North Star Reach Camp. What a wonderful asset the camp will be in helping to bring some happiness into the lives of these critically ill children. Sometimes one has to be patient to see a project come to fruition.

In conclusion, I must credit two very special individuals who served as mentors to me and who helped immensely in my career at the University. Early on it was Dr. Kerlikowske at the Old Main Hospital. In my later years Vice President Pierpont guided me and was responsible for my advancement. I was fortunate to have worked during a time when the University strongly supported the idea of promotion from within. That policy encourages the staff to work harder in the belief that they will be promoted, and it builds loyalty. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have as strong a commitment to this philosophy as we did in the past.


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