Portrait of Marcia Haas

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Marcia (Knapp) Haas has served as first lady of Grand Valley for more than 11 years. She said she felt an immediate connection with students and the university when her husband, President Thomas J. Haas, was given the nickname T-Haas by students shortly after they arrived on campus.

She is most proud of their three children (Eric, Greg and Sarah), and four granddaughters (another granddaughter is on the way). 

Marcia was born in Iowa, grew up in Union City, Michigan, and is a graduate of Albion College. She serves on the Grand Rapids Symphony Board of Directors, Clark Retirement Community Board of Trustees, and the Kent County Parks Foundation Board of Directors. She is also an active member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, an international women's organization.

You are known for your warm personality, being down-to-earth and being quick to smile. What were you like as a child?

Oh, I was very playful and animated. I was not shy — almost to the extreme. I was a bit of a tomboy. I liked to do things that my brothers liked to do. I loved growing up in Union City, it's a beautiful piece of American pie and a nice place to raise a family. In high school, I worked on the yearbook and loved being in band, choir and drama. Those experiences helped launch me.

Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. It was and is a very honored and revered profession. I had a wonderful experience teaching and helping young children learn to read. As a teacher, I have experienced all levels of learning, from kindergarten to calculus, and how the continuum of education is so important.

In a campus presentation, you mentioned the positive impact your grandmothers had on your life. How so?

I respected them and enjoyed being with them in different ways. They each contributed to who I am today.

Grammy, my mom's mom, taught me how to sew. I have fond memories of sitting on her lap, spending time at their farm in Iowa, doing the chores and riding horses. 

People gravitated toward my dad's mother. I loved hearing about Grandmother's travels to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. She started a scholarship that would involve international programs for women to go to universities in the U.S. through P.E.O., and started two chapters in Alaska.

You must be proud to have all three of your children following in their father's footsteps and serving their country.

It's hard to put into words.

Each of our children had different reasons and different models of how they wanted to serve their country. Eric told me when he was 12 he was going to be an astronaut and he was in their training program. He is currently a fighter pilot in the Air Force. Greg, who is in the Coast Guard, loves being the peacekeeping-type servant. And, Sarah, who served as a nuclear engineer in the Navy, wanted to use her engineering expertise. 

I am very, very proud of them. I know what they have sacrificed. I cherished my role of taking care of our home and children while Tom was in the Coast Guard. His career took us to many parts of the country and enriched our lives through friendships and experiences.

Your passion for the arts runs deep, even doing community theater in several states. What draws you to the arts? 

The arts enrich our lives in so many ways. While in community theater I was in "South Pacific," "Wizard of Oz," (I was the good witch), "Meet Me in St. Louis," and "Bye Bye Birdie." I loved it because you can be anybody on stage and you can take that role and develop it. I also loved being together with people of all ages.

Liza Minnelli once said she could learn anything in five minutes, and I thought, I can do the same thing. If you watch and observe, you can learn anything.

You were very moved during your remarks at the opening of the Haas Center for Performing Arts in August.

I was. It's humbling to be able to have an impact that will matter to others in a way that you never dreamed possible. We have been richly blessed beyond what we deserve. We are so happy that we could give back. 

Everyone who has a dream in their heart or an idea, say it. Get it out there. Help make it happen. It could be the grand idea of the day.

How do you describe your role as first lady?

I love every aspect of the role. I love getting to know students and parents. I love working alongside faculty and learning from their talents. I have been blessed to travel to every continent except Antarctica. And, I consider it a privilege to host people at our home. 

My very favorite part is hosting the resident assistants at our home in the fall, and feeling that freshness of a new academic year. It's an exciting time. Everyone is happy to be back together. They all want selfies with Tom. These students are such a united group; they bring the optimism of a new year. 

What are you and the president like at home?

We sit down and watch reruns of "This is Us" and "Downton Abbey." We garden, take care of our grandchildren and take time for Laker, our dog. Our home is a piece of Grand Valley history and we are stewards of this home. We love to share it with the community.

Did you ever dream this would be the path your life would take?

Yes, I did dream it. I've more than surpassed it. I feel very fortunate. Its not about attaining something, it's about being part of a greater community, letting God's light shine through us.

I've been blessed to have many mentors along the way — my grandparents, a history teacher who gave me courage. When I was 19 and competing in the Miss Michigan pageant, a woman put her arms on my shoulders and said to me, "Remember this moment. Don't be afraid. This should be something you look back on as being a first step out into the real world. If you can do this, you are all set."

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