Lofty ambitions


Jocelyn Hale takes the helm at the Loft Literary Center

If the most talented creative writers at the Loft Literary Center had tried to construct the ideal fictional character to take over the leadership of their organization, they would have been hard-pressed to create one was as well rounded, well prepared and well connected as the very nonfictional Jocelyn Hale.

Hale, a Minneapolis native, is poised to step in as the Loft’s new executive director at the end of October, replacing Linda Myers, who is retiring after 14 years at the helm. After Myers announced her decision this past spring, the Loft conducted a nationwide search to replace her, but they found the best candidate right at home.

“We worked very hard to cast a broad national net and to rank our candidates against several key qualities that the ideal executive director should have” said Shawn Otto, who chaired the search committee. “In every measure we could devise, Jocelyn Hale came out on top.”

Hale has been a key player at the Loft for several years. She became a member 10 years ago and has served on the board of directors for the past four. Most recently, she worked with fellow board members Nancy Gaschott and Stephen Wilbers to co-author the Loft’s strategic plan, which lays out the organization’s plans and goals for the years 2007-–2012.

Stephen Wilbers, who authors the “Effective Writing” column for the Star Tribune, said his experience working with Hale left him deeply impressed with her talent and commitment to the Loft, as well as her collaborative style. “We weighed and debated every word of that plan,” he said. “What impressed me most was that she spoke passionately about the issues she cared about, but she never insisted on her point of view and she always listened.”

On the road to her new position, Hale has taken the scenic route rather than the straight shot, charting a life path marked by both careful planning and daring detours. Hale grew up in the Kenwood neighborhood and graduated from Blake High School and then Brown University in Providence, R.I., where she majored in American history. After returning to Minneapolis, she worked in nonprofit administration for several local arts organizations, including The Playwrights’ Center, Brass Tacks Theatre and Film in the Cities.

In 1991, when Hale was 29, she decided to spend a year hitchhiking through Central America. “That was a very important year for me,” she said. “I crossed the border by myself in Texas, was in Mexico for a while, and then went to Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It was an incredible experience.”

When she returned to Minneapolis, Hale met up with another adventure traveler, biker Dan Buettner. Buettner had just completed a bike trip around the world with his brother and told Hale his next expedition would be from the northern tip to the southern tip of Africa. Hale immediately saw the possibilities. “I said to him, you know, I think we could get sponsorship for this and make it bigger and make it an educational program,” she recalled. “We started working together, and right around that time the Internet hit.”

The result was the nine-month Africatrek Expedition and a decade-long collaboration with Buettner in which Hale guided his online adventure learning company into the Internet age, managing budgets, staff, and publicity and attracting generous sponsorships and foundation support.

During that time, Hale was also taking on two new adventures: parenting and writing. Hale and her husband, Glenn Miller, had moved to the Fulton neighborhood in Southwest Minneapolis and become parents to two boys, Roger, now 12, and Teddy, 11. As a new mother, Hale chose to do her consulting work from a home office so she could also be available to her children. When she found herself bored and lonely at home, she decided to try writing. “It was just for fun,” she said, “just to entertain myself.” On a whim she submitted a commentary to Public Radio International’s “Marketplace” show and it was accepted immediately.

“From there, everything just took off,” Hale said. She became a regular commentator for “Marketplace,” as well as for Minnesota Monthly magazine, the Southwest Journal newspaper and other publications, including the Star Tribune.

As her children grew, so did Hale’s commitments and connections. While theoretically a “stay-at-home mom,” she also served on the board of directors for Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, helped found the Million Mom March, chaired the Lake Harriet School Carnival, wrote articles for print and broadcast, served on the board of directors at the Loft, and expanded her consulting work in nonprofit administration. Most recently, she worked as a part-time program manager for the Best Buy Children’s Foundation, overseeing the distribution of over $6 million to local cultural organizations.

All the while, Hale was looking forward, considering what she would want to do when her kids were old enough for her to take on a single full-time job, rather than juggling multiple writing and consulting commitments. “I knew the next job I would want would be in a leadership role, and I could see the types of jobs I would be applying for all pretty much demanded a master’s degree,” she said. That led to Hale’s decision to enter the master’s program in public affairs and nonprofit leadership at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Hale, who will complete that program this December, said it has been extremely valuable to add academic work to her consulting experience. “A lot of the things I do I think I’m pretty good at, but it’s kind of self-taught,” she said. “At the Humphrey, I’ve learned it from beginning to end.”

The opportunity to apply for the Loft’s executive director position took Hale by surprise, and she wasn’t immediately sure she was ready for it. She had been slated to be the new board chair and hadn’t planned to start a full-time position until her boys were a year or two older. Her husband was very encouraging, though, and she knew the Loft would respect her need for work-life balance. “The Loft culture is very much one of personal responsibility and flexibility around your work,” she said.

She decided to go for the job and ended up as the top candidate. Shirley Nelson Garner, chair of the Loft’s board of directors, said she had long thought Hale would be an ideal person for the job. “She has such excellent leadership qualities, she loves the Loft and she’s just an outstanding person,” she said. “Linda Myers has been such a strong leader, and we wanted to be sure the person who replaced her was really going to be able to take her place.”

Hale plans to build on the success of Myers’ tenure, during which the Loft created a permanent home in the Open Book Center at 1101 Washington Ave. S., significantly expanded its classes and programming, and built up a sizeable endowment. “My first year will be about really building on what we have and then listening, listening, listening, so I can learn from the people around me,” she said.

Hale said she is most excited about working with the staff at the Loft. “You know, the Loft is not about one person, not about one executive director,” she said. “It’s about our community, about our teachers, staff, and the board, and I just feel so honored to able to be part of that community.”

Contributing writer Linda Lincoln lives in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.