Eastern Michigan alumna Maureen Thomas (BS81) always knew she wanted to be an attorney. When she came to EMU in 1977, however, she initially majored in broadcasting and even flirted with the idea of becoming an entertainment lawyer.
During her freshman year, one of her projects was to produce a dog food commercial.
“We had a live animal for the commercial and we hid him in the dorms for a while,” says Maureen. “The commercial actually turned out really well.”
Her role was to write and direct the commercial, which was good experience, but more importantly, hiding the dog in her freshman dorm is now one of her favorite campus memories.
Maureen eventually focused on what would become her life’s work, and has spent a career representing construction clients at Detroit-based Dykema and then as in-house counsel at Pulte Group and BMC Stock. She received her law degree from Detroit College of Law.
Maureen’s parents instilled at an early age the importance of an education, but, with five siblings, she would be wholly responsible for the financing.
“Not working was not an option,” says Maureen. “We always knew we were going to have to do that. In the end the payoff was going to be worth it. We’re now all a bunch of workaholics!”
Amazingly, Maureen graduated from Eastern without any student debt. She says there was a lot of hard work involved. The situation, however, was nothing new to the family. Maureen’s mother put herself through Schoolcraft College in Livonia to become a registered nurse, and her father worked at the Cadillac factory in Detroit and attended night classes at U of D to receive his degree.
Maureen also earned the Campus Leader award, which covered the cost of her freshman residence hall and meal plan. She keeps the award letter to this day.
“I was planning to commute until I got that letter in June of 1977,” says Maureen. “I opened it up and was stunned. I gave it to my mother and she started to cry.”
Maureen worked at the EMU switchboard while living on campus her first year. Starting with the second year, she commuted while living at home but continued to keep a hectic schedule. She worked four days a week at a bank while finishing her degree in four years. She says now that experience has helped as a Foundation Board member to identify with the struggles of working and commuter students.
A longtime donor, Maureen became more engaged in 2001, when she was approached by her friend and fellow EMU alumna Melonie Colaianne (BBA83, MBA94) to join the EMU Foundation Board. Maureen was on the Foundation Board for 10 years and served as Chair from 2009-2011. She was elected as a lifetime Emeritus member in 2011, and served on the Executive Committee from 2006-2013.
Not one to sit idly by, Maureen has been highly active and involved with important initiatives such as Women in Philanthropy, a grant-making group that supports EMU-based projects.
“Women in Philanthropy was born when I was chair of the Foundation Board,” says Maureen. “It wasn’t my idea; there was a whole group of people: Jackie Tracy, Linda Pritchard, Karen Paciorek and others who put WIP together. I joined immediately, thinking it was great because we’re teaching people about philanthropy.”
Maureen’s story of giving back has a familiar ring. Like so many others, Maureen’s barriers into college were financial in nature, and having benefited from a scholarship, she is paying it forward to provide the same opportunity to Eastern students.
“Somebody took a chance on me,” says Maureen.
“Eastern gave me an opportunity to experience a year living on campus, something that I will always treasure, and would have missed out on but for the scholarship”