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Kinders to retire, will join Betz in Oklahoma

October 9, 2008

UW-River Falls Public Affairs Director Mark Kinders is retiring at the end of November and will join former chancellor Don Betz at Northeastern State University, beginning a new career as vice president for university relations in Oklahoma.

There is no difference—benefit-wise—retiring from UWRF now than in six years when Kinders turns 65, he said in an e-mail.

Kinders’ current position affords him a yearly salary of $82,000, versus the $110,000 he will make at NSU.

Kinders has worked at UWRF for 23 years, beginning in 1985.

As director of public affairs, Kinders has overall responsibility for all media, legislative, Congressional and community and business relations, as well as sports information and photography, according to his résumé.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University (Ill.), a Master of Arts in history from UWRF and a Master of Public Affairs, Executive Program, at Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota.

During his time at UWRF, Kinders has worked hard as the spokesperson of the University.

“He has grown the job as well as grown in the job,” said Campus Photographer Jens Gunelson, who has worked at UWRF for 31 years.

A portion of growth came in 1990 when Kinders chaired a NFL Search Committee that recruited the Kansas City Chiefs to UWRF for summer training camp. As information and media liaison to the Kansas City Chiefs, Kinders developed a marketing and public relations program that has produced an economic impact of over $40 million and brought 150,000 visitors to campus over 18 years, according to his résumé.

Assistant Public Affairs Director and Sports Information Director Jim Thies said he will miss Kinders’ leadership and friendship.

“Mark Kinders has led the way on many fronts during his years at UWRF. He has the utmost respect of everyone he has worked with during his career,” Thies said in an e-mail interview.

After attracting national attention to the region through the Chiefs’ training camp, Kinders began a new venture in 1995 to promote tourism by founding the St. Croix Valley Regional Tourism Alliance.

Nothing like SCVRTA – which includes the collaboration of 20 communities, six counties and two states – had been achieved before and it has been a model to other states looking to do the same thing, Kinders said.

One thing Kinders said he finds very rewarding about his job is coaching and mentoring students.

“It’s easy to come to work every day because we are engaged in the noble purpose [higher education], fighting the good fight every day,” Kinders said. “Students come in the door with a lot of energy and you have to be on top of your game.”

Debra Toftness, who has worked with Kinders for 19 years, said that Kinders leaving is like losing family.

“He takes pride in mentoring students who work in the office and has been a great mentor for all of us. He’s one of those people who knows something about everything,” the Falcon Daily editor and public affairs office operations associate said in an e-mail.

Kinders received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in August in recognition of his work for the University.

Through everything “Mark always has kept the University’s mission – that of preparing students to be productive and engaged citizens—at the forefront of everything he does for UWRF,” Brenda Bredahl, communications specialist and public affairs coordinator, said in an e-mail.

Kinders reports directly to Interim Chancellor Connie Foster.

“I think chancellors have come to depend on him for his knowledge…he brings a lot to the table,” Foster said. “He will be missed.”

Former chancellor Don Betz also said that Kinders was a valuable resource to turn to.

“During the three years I collaborated with Mark, I found him to be a natural team player with unique insights into the politics and economics impacting the University,” Betz said in an e-mail interview. “I learned to appreciate his counsel.”

The numerous responsibilities of Kinders at UWRF will need to be filled before he leaves at the end of November. 

“We are in the process of reconstructuring, taking a look at Mark’s position and deciding what would be the best way to fulfill the duties that Mark has performed.” Foster said.

Foster also said Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry will be working with Kinders in the area of legislating relations in order to take that over when Kinders retires.

The opportunity to stretch and challenge himself professionally is what Kinders said attracted him to the vice president for university relations position at NSU. NSU has its main campus in Tahlequah and branch campuses in Muskogee and Broken Arrow. Kinders will work so that NSU has a consistent message across the three locations and into the surrounding areas. Kinders will advocate on behalf of NSU for resources to improve finances. On a personal level Kinders said that Betz, once the director of university relations, has “tremendous empathy for the position.”

When asked about what excited him the most about his new position, Kinders said that no one particular thing stands out the most.

“The passion and the commitment to public higher education is just as strong on those three campuses than at UWRF,” Kinders said.

As far as knowledge of the Oklahoma region, Kinders said that he will be starting from scratch. NSU is located in the foothills of the Ozarks. Tahlequah is also the headquarters of the Cherokee nation; while the Illinois River, like the St. Croix River, is a national scenic river.

Betz acknowledged Kinders’ outstanding work in the Saint Croix Valley region.

“Organizations exist today in western Wisconsin because of Mark’s talents and persistence. He has told the UWRF story to great effect for many years. Mark has contributed in a most substantive way to the growth and development of UWRF,” Betz said. “I applaud his remarkable UWRF career and look forward to welcoming him to the NSU family.”

Kinders said he has made a lot of tremendous friends on campus and he will miss seeing the friendly faces as well as the people who he has “sweat and bled with.”

“There is no way to enumerate the multitude of ways that Mark will be missed at UWRF, but I wish him the best, which he deserves,” Gretchen Link, a senior counselor of counseling services who has served on the Academic Staff Council with Kinders for a number of years, said in an e-mail interview.

Kinders described his wife Linda Bowlby-Kinders and himself as “empty-nesters.”  Their youngest, Matthew, is a sophomore at UWRF majoring in business. Their second eldest son, Casey, is a Marine who recently returned from a combat tour in Iraq and is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton. Their eldest son, Christian, daughter-in-law Mindy, and granddaughter Catie, live in Kansas City where Christian does quality control work for Bayer Industries.