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Timeless leadership

Posted 4 a.m. Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Pictured left to right: Julie Cincera, Dick Koehler, Pam Lindley, Pam Sweere.

Celebrating Dick Koehler, UWL’s first director of Residence Life

Meet UWL’s first Director of Residence Life: Dick Koehler.   

Koehler started his career as director in 1966 – the same year Whitney Dining Hall, Coate Hall, Angell Hall and Drake Hall were built. He retired in 1997 after 31 years at UWL. 

During his tenure, he worked closely with Residence Life staff, including resident assistants (RAs) and graduate students hired as assistant hall directors. Many of these connections have stood the test of time — evidenced by the fact that some of his former students drove or flew from around the country to be with Koehler for his 90th birthday celebration in February.

Koehler hosted RA training camps at the start of each academic year.

“I had great relationships with, especially, my Residence Life student staff,” Koehler says. “I don’t think I ever got rid of my alumni. It’s hard to believe I was at UWL for 30 years and now have been retired for 30 more, yet I still see my alumni when they visit La Crosse for one reason or another. They’ll always be my kids.” 

Pam Lindley, ‘86 and ‘89, traveled from Phoenix to join in celebrating Koehler.  

“Dick’s Residence Life program at UWL had such a profound impact on my life,” Lindley says. “Thanks to Dick, my Residence Life experiences gave me a wonderful foundation and helped propel me into fabulous careers and a very happy, successful life.” 

In addition to finding career success, Lindley believes she has become a better person just by knowing Dick.

Koehler performing as Neil Diamond at RA training.

“During my whole life, Dick has been such a positive role model and mentor for me because of his positive approach to life,” Lindley says. “He’s been able to impact so many lives, including mine, with his kind heart, positive attitude, use of humor and easy-going style.”  

Koehler explains that he has always had that kind of personality — one that made him an effective, well-liked leader for staff and students.

“I’ve always been this way; I feel it’s just my personality,” Koehler explains. “I never got too serious because having humor and laughter in my life has, I think, helped me be as healthy as I am. I’m 90 and have my wits about me, which came from how I reacted to situations and my love for interacting with people.” 

Pam Sweere, ‘90, remembers how much effort Koehler poured into all the students he worked with. He inspired and encouraged his staff, celebrating life milestones and quickly becoming a mentor and friend to those in his program.  

For people who know Koehler, one talent they are especially in awe of is his famous Neil Diamond impression.  

Dick is famous for some of the lip-syncing routines he has done over the years during RA training. His most well-known character is Neil Diamond,” Sweere says.

The tradition started at RA training in 1987, after Koehler received feedback that students wanted to see office staff participate in certain team-building exercises. The bit soon morphed into one of Koehler’s signature moves, and he still performs as Diamond at weddings and events, such as his birthday celebration.

Koehler performing with Sweere.

"At RA training in 1988, Dick asked me to join him for his ‘bit’ and play the part of Barbra Streisand in ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,’” recalls Sweere. “I did it again with him a few years later at my wedding.” 

Julie Cincera, ‘90, traveled from Atlanta to celebrate Koehler’s special day. 

“Celebrating Dick was so important to me because he was my first ever boss,” Cincera says. “He helped me on my journey of college and adulthood, teaching me invaluable lessons of friendship and gratitude that I still hold with me today.” 

Cincera’s daughter, Ashlie, is now a junior at UWL.

Koehler with Cincera's daughter, Ashlie, who is currently a junior at UWL.

“Dick and his wife, Sally, have truly been a blessing to my daughter,” Cincera says. “They always are available for Ashlie, whether it’s taking her to dinner or meeting up for a round of golf. I am so grateful!” 

Koehler has endless stories about the memories he made with staff, as well as working with the best to the most troublesome residents. One of his favorite stories was when he called the UWL chief of police to order a lie detector test, which Koehler had no intention of using, to urge a student to tell the truth. 

“The director of Residence Life job calls for someone who is good with people,” Koehler says. “It takes someone who puts effort into understanding the people and understanding problems that college students face. It is a different world.” 

Above his desk, Koehler had a sign that read ‘Don’t take life too seriously, because you don’t get out alive anyway,’ which was a motto he shared with many people he connected with.  

Koehler taught his student staff his key principles of life: kindness, laughter and connection. Lindley, Sweere, Cincera and thousands of others were positively impacted by Koehler’s 31 years of leadership at UWL. They attribute a fair amount of their success to the friendship they earned and lessons they learned from Koehler.  

“Dick is a great guy, and I’m incredibly lucky to call him my friend,” Sweere says. “Dick is an amazing example of a life well lived.” 


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