BIG RAPIDS – In 1960 Darlene Eaton Novak earned an associate degree in Applied Sciences from Ferris Institute. Fifty years later, her passion for Ferris State University remains as strong as ever.
It’s that passion that left Novak speechless and emotionally overwhelmed after Ferris Director of Alumni Relations Jeremy Mishler first approached her with the opportunity to serve as grand marshal of Ferris’ 2010 homecoming parade on Oct. 9 beginning at noon in downtown Big Rapids. This year’s theme, “Get Back to Where you Belong,” emphasizes alumni from the 1960s.
The owner of Big Rapids Antique Shoppe in downtown Big Rapids, Novak was flattered by this offer from her alma mater.
“I was very surprised. … I felt so privileged and honored because Ferris is very important to me and to my family,” said Novak, who later earned a Bachelor of Science in Allied Health Teacher Education in 1974 while she was teaching in the Dental Assisting and Dental Technology programs. “I was speechless, and it took me a while to know what to say.”
Growing up during an era when less emphasis was placed on higher education for women, Novak drew academic inspiration from two sources: her father, Leslie Mariton Eaton, and David Spathelf, son of Ferris Institute President Victor F. Spathelf, a classmate at Big Rapids High School. Strengthened by that inspiration, she went on to become the first in her family to graduate from BRHS and the first to graduate with a college education.
Novak later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Central Michigan University, a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in educational administration, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Spaulding University in Kentucky.
“Most of my growth, educationally and professionally, was because of Ferris,” said Novak, who also cited the positive educational experiences at Ferris for her and her husband Bob’s children. Their son, Mark, graduated from the Michigan College of Optometry and now practices in Florida. Their son, David, a College of Allied Health Sciences, Dental Technology program graduate, earned a degree in dentistry from the University of Louisville and also practices in Florida. Their daughter, Susan, attended Ferris and now works for the University in its Charter Schools office as she continues to work toward a degree in business law.
Bob speaks with pride as he talks about his wife and reflects on her accomplishments. “I’ve always supported Darlene with education because it is very important to her and to both of us,” he said. “This lady has done great things because of opportunity, and she got it right here at Ferris.”
As the 2010 Homecoming Committee started to consider its grand marshal candidates, one name stood out.
“Darlene's successful career as an educator, administrator, businesswoman, her local roots to the Big Rapids area, her continuing support of Ferris State University and her ownership of the Big Rapids Antique Shoppe, truly embodied the spirit of ‘Back to Where You Belong,’” Mishler said. “We were also impressed with her commitment to lifelong learning and her love for Ferris that is shared by so many Bulldog alumni throughout homecoming.”