Person Of The Year: Arlene Hinkemeyer - Tough shoes to fill
By Mike Schnitzel
Perhaps Dr. Frank Chiachiere, president of the Valley Stream Central High School District Board of Education, described her best when he called her "Miss Valley Stream."
During her 20 years as the community information coordinator for the high school district, Arlene Hinkemeyer has been the embodiment of the district. Its successes have been her successes. If she's not in her office, she's probably at one of the district's four secondary schools, jotting down notes and snapping photos with one goal in mind -- bringing students' accomplishments home to every household in the community.
"She is so committed to bringing the achievements of the district to the community," said Dr. Maria Fletcher, who sits on both the high school and District 30 Boards of Education. "She makes sure that anyone and everyone has information on what the schools are doing. She's at every event and always brings that camera as an extension of herself."
You could argue that Hinkemeyer is just doing her job, but to do so would underestimate the impact she's had. Serving under five superintendents, she has built a body of work that has earned her more than 50 state and national awards. Over the years her job description has expanded because she thought it should. She welcomed the added responsibilities because she truly believes in a resident's right to know. We applaud her and honor her as the Herald's Person of the Year.
"For someone who has historically shunned the spotlight, it's great that she will be getting recognition for the magnificent work she has done," said Dr. Martin Brooks, who was superintendent of the high school district from 1997 to 2000. "She's very humble. It's never been about her -- it's always been about the kids, the faculty, the parents, the district. She's gone above and beyond."
By January's end, Hinkemeyer, 62, will step down from the position that she has rightfully made all her own. "I have loved this job, I have loved this community," she said. "There are so many wonderful residents, alumni association members, so many who are active in the historical society and so many organizations in town, all the PTA leaders who have donated their time. I feel a part of this community even though I don't actually live in Valley Stream." Hinkemeyer began her career as a high school history teacher in a suburb of Chicago, and later worked in the textbook publishing industry. She freelanced while raising her two children, before returning to work full-time in December 1985 to become the district's community information coordinator. Upon arriving, Hinkemeyer found an office very different from the one it became during her tenure.
"My predecessor used a typewriter that was not self-correcting and was covered in whiteout," she recalled, "so I started on a self-correcting typewriter."
More than just the information coordinator, Hinkemeyer is the district's historian, writer, editor and photographer. She's responsible for the layout and design of district publications, media relations, community relations, interschool communications and event planning. "As a former high school teacher, I feel very proud of Valley Stream students and want them to get recognition for [their achievements]," she said.
Hinkemeyer is credited with creating many new publications designed to strengthen district-community relations, including "Welcome to Your Board of Education," "Welcome to the Valley Stream High School District," and the summer-school bulletin. She revamped the district calendar, which is mailed to every home in the district, and made it theme-based. She has been instrumental in the success of the district's Distinguished Alumni Award program, which was started by Jules Rabin in 1989. She coordinated the district's 75th anniversary celebration.
Hinkemeyer initiated, and has since planned each year, the district's open house programs during American Education Week in November. More recently, she set up a partnership between the high school district and the Long Beach School District in Long Beach, Miss., to send much-needed aid after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. She is very proud of the community service that the school district engages in, and noted that last year South High School raised $20,000 to assist victims of the tsunami in south Asia.
In addition to the public relations and charity work with which Hinkemeyer has assisted the school district, she served as the first president of the Long Island School Public Relations Association from 1992 to 1994, and was the last president of the Nassau County School Public Relations Association (from 1991 to 1992) before it merged with Suffolk County's school PR association to become LISPRA. In 1991, Hinkemeyer was honored as the New York State Professional of the Year after being nominated by then-superintendent Dr. Glenn Grube.
According to Superintendent Dr. Marc Bernstein, it is Hinkemeyer's commitment to community dynamics and her ability to bring the community into the school district that has made her such a valuable asset to Valley Stream's schools. "She has kept community members informed in an entertaining and factual way," said Bernstein. "She has reached out to individuals and to groups to bring them information regarding the schools, and has also been critical in bringing information back to the schools."
Hinkemeyer majored in history in college, and went on to earn a master's in teaching from Northwestern University and a master's in communication arts from the New York Institute of Technology. "I've been dealing with information all of my working life," she said.
Hinkemeyer intends to spend her retirement in East Hampton, where she has a home with her husband of 38 years, Michael, an author who has published more than 20 novels. They have two children -- Ellen, a musician who lives in California, and Jonathan, a Chicago attorney -- and one grandchild, Hannah.
Hinkemeyer plans to work part-time in retirement, and volunteer for non-profit organizations as a public relations specialist. But for the time being, she says, "I'm just looking forward to a few months of rest. There are people who don't believe that I will rest, but I am determined to rest."
Leaving behind fond memories, Hinkemeyer said that she has been proud to be a part of the "50-year commitment of the Valley Stream Central High School District to keep the community informed."
"She's very dedicated," said Mary Magro, who will be retiring in January after serving 20 years as secretary to the superintendent. "She gets right to the bottom of things ... and she will be missed."
Nicole Falco contributed to this story? Comments about it? NFalco@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 208.