Fontbonne’s new president, Dr. Nancy Blattner, officially took office on July 1, 2020. Her desk isn’t even set up yet, but she’s already hard at work preparing for the fall semester! She took a quick break this week, though, to answer some questions about her hidden talents, pets, favorite travel spots, goals for the university and more.
13 Questions with Dr. Blattner
If you had to choose someone to play you in a movie, who would it be?
“I’ve been told that from a certain perspective, and with the right haircut, Teresa May (the former British Prime Minister) and I resemble each other! The first time I was told that, I wasn’t exactly sure how to take it, but there is an uncanny resemblance. So I think it would be really cool if I were ever to have a movie made about myself, if she would agree to play me.”
What is a memorable book you’ve read recently?
“I think one of the most memorable books I’ve read is ‘Jesus: A Pilgrimage’ by James Martin, who is a Jesuit priest. I read this book because a friend of mine, Sr. Kathleen Tuite, and I are planning a trip to the Holy Land. Of course, that was put on hold with the pandemic, but this is a beautiful book that has been written from a theologian’s perspective about how Jesus lived. It’s connected to all of the passages in the Gospel that talk about where he preached, and so it was great preparation for a trip we’ll take in the future.”
Where is the best place you’ve traveled?
“I’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot, both for work and personally. I guess the place I love the best is Rome. It’s a place I’ve had the pleasure of teaching three classes on the history of Catholicism and Christianity within the Dominican tradition, because that was the charism of Caldwell University, where I’ve come from. But I just love the antiquity of the city. In fact, my husband and I celebrated a significant anniversary there last year. We took our three adult children with us, and we renewed our vows in the eternal city, so it’s a very special place for me.”
Do you have any pets?
“I have had a Boxer named Dash. First named because I’m an English professor and I thought that was a cute use of the word ‘dash,’ but then he really became a dasher when he ran every time the door was open! We don’t have pets right now because of our travel situation and just having moved here from another state, but we’ll see what happens. Maybe there’s a future for a cute little puppy in the president’s house on Wydown… we’ll see!”
What is your favorite sport to watch or play?
“I have to admit, as I do to all students, that I am the least athletic person on campus. I have no athletic ability whatsoever! I think that’s the reason I’m such a strong supporter of athletics. But if I had to pick a favorite, it probably would either be volleyball or basketball — maybe that’s because those are sports that are played inside and generally during the season when I have a little time at the end of the day or on the weekend to indulge my joy of watching sports.”
What was it like living with the CSJs?
“Some people may not know that I lived with the CSJs (Sisters of St. Joseph) during my last year at Fontbonne before I moved to New Jersey. It was wonderful. The sisters were very welcoming to me. It was sort of the best of both worlds — I had sisters who wanted to enjoy dinner with me and who would offer to do my ironing (I never let them, by the way!), but it was also a place where there was an opportunity for great solitude. I loved being able to visit the chapel on a regular basis because it was right there in the Mother House, and also to just have some quiet time to start my day with prayer and meditation. That was a real gift. So it was a really nice combination of community and an opportunity for solitary living as well.”
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
“I like to walk in the neighborhood a couple miles a day and listen to Pandora music and just relax or think. I really love to read, and I read absolutely everything from nonfiction to fiction, historical fiction and essays. And I really like to travel, so it’s been hard these last several months because travel has certainly been curtailed. I love spending time with my family, my husband and our three children, although only one of them lives here in the St. Louis area. We get together when we can.”
Who are some of the people that have inspired you?
“I think the people who have inspired me most are the people I’ve lived with throughout my life. I’ll start with my parents. I talk about them a lot because they were people who had only an 8th grade education. And yet they gave me the three most valuable gifts any person can have. One was a true desire for an education that they were absolutely certain I was going to have, and I think that wish for them was fulfilled. The second was that they desired for me to have a strong faith life. My parents were Catholic, as I am, from birth, and I think part of what’s happened in both my personal and professional life is because of the faith they instilled in me. And then the third great gift they gave me was an incredibly strong work ethic. My parents are German by ancestry, so hard work was just part of their DNA and they imparted that to me. I’ve always been very grateful for those gifts. Then as I became an adult, while their influence was still strong, my husband Tim has been the person who has influenced me the most. He was someone who really gave me confidence in myself and taught me to believe in going after my dreams. He was willing to leave our hometown of Cape Girardeau to live for 11 years in New Jersey, a place he’d rarely even visited. But he believed in my ability to lead an institution, so I would say he’s really influenced my life in a very, very positive way.”
Why did you choose to come back to Fontbonne?
“Many people probably remember that I was at Fontbonne as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Dean of the Faculty from 2004–2009. I remember when I first came here and one of the first formal ceremonies that happened was Catch the Fire, when the freshmen came for their orientation that August. My husband was still living in Cape Girardeau and I was in St. Louis so we were commuting, and I remember calling him after that ceremony and saying, ‘Tim, I have found the perfect marriage between my personal beliefs and values and faith and my professional aspirations here at Fontbonne.’ It was my first opportunity to be in a Catholic institution of higher education, and I knew from that point on I never wanted to leave Catholic higher ed. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have been in Catholic higher ed now for over 16 years. So when the opportunity came, almost a year ago now, for me to entertain the thought of returning to Fontbonne as it was searching for its next president, it was very easy for me to want to come back here to the people and to the community that I really cherished. And it’s been a very, very nice homecoming.”
What hidden talents do you have?
“My husband says that I have the best memory of anyone he’s ever encountered. It’s true, I can remember an awful lot, and sometimes irrelevant details about things that have happened in the past. But I also think one of the talents I have that’s relevant to work is that I’m able to really envision things in a different way, and I would say that’s important for two reasons. One, I can look at space and see it being used for different purposes. So when I first went to Caldwell University, where I was the president for 11 years, people asked me, ‘What building are you going to build?’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to build a single building.’ And they were shocked! I said, ‘What I am going to do is repurpose space we have on campus.’ So every building there ultimately had space that was repurposed and utilized for a different need or utility. I also think that I can envision future growth for institutions in a way that’s important. Higher education is under a lot of stress right now, so I’m hoping that as I become reacquainted with Fontbonne, I’ll be able to use that hidden talent to help us build a vision for the future together.”
What will you miss most about Caldwell?
“That’s an easy one! Hands down, it’s the people. I had an incredible support staff, I had wonderful colleagues who were on the president’s cabinet that we worked together so well as a team, and mostly I’m going to miss the students. The students were just great. As we were in lockdown and my husband had already moved back to St. Louis several weeks before I was able to join him, the students reached out to me and said, ‘Dr. Blattner, we know you walk every day — can we join you?’ And they took turns walking with me in the neighborhood. I already knew these students, but I got to know them so much better. And they got to know me on a different level as we walked for miles throughout the campus and the neighborhood. That was just indicative of the students and their genuine care and concern for the community. So I’ll miss that.”
What is one of your goals for the first 100 days?
“The first thing I want to do is to really reacquaint myself with the campus at Fontbonne. I mean that in terms of both the people who are here as well as the physical space. So one of the things I’d like to do is to reconnect with the faculty and staff who were here when I was here 11 years ago, but also begin to meet the faculty and staff who have joined the Fontbonne family since I left. And I’d also like to take a very close walking tour of the campus to see how the facilities have been utilized since I left, to look at all of the space that’s available and begin to envision how that space might be used in the future. With the leadership team, we also need to begin to think about where Fontbonne is headed in the future. I say this not only because we’re (like every other institution of higher education) dealing with the impact of the coronavirus, but also because private higher education, Catholic higher education, is under siege throughout the United States. We really need to find our place in that arena and determine how we we want to be known to the students who come to us for an excellent education as well as the faculty and staff who work here.”
What is your favorite St. Louis spot?
“Hands down, it’s Busch Stadium. We love the St. Louis Cardinals, and since I was a little girl living in Cape Girardeau, I’ve always rooted for the Cardinals. I continued for the 11 years we were in New Jersey. We saw them play when they came to City Field and played the Mets, and I think they played the Yankees for a series and we saw them there as well in Yankee Stadium. So we’re really looking forward to when Major League Baseball reopens and allows spectators to be one of the first in Busch Stadium. Might not be this year, maybe next year, but it will be something to look forward to.”