After more than 35 years of overseeing daily operations, laboratory renovations, and high-tech equipment installations for the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine, Ann Olendorff has retired. Olendorff reliably ensured that scientists always had what they needed to do their research, even as the Department grew, leadership changed, and technologies evolved over the decades.
“Ann’s professionalism and dedication to the laboratories and the research enterprise has been key to the success of the Department of Neuroscience,” said Linda Richards, PhD, Edison Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience. “Her length of service is truly remarkable and her in-depth knowledge and management of different aspects of the Department’s research enterprise is irreplaceable. Ann is a much-loved member of the Department and we will miss her very much. We wish her all the very best for her retirement.”
Olendorff’s career in the Department started in the summer of 1978 after she graduated high school and continued part-time for several years while she earned her undergraduate degree in education. She assisted with office tasks, took care of mail for the department and worked on setting up an equipment inventory.
After a brief departure from WashU to teach and, later, work as a sales representative for Ralph Lauren, Olendorff returned in 1986. Her responsibilities for the Department evolved to managing the maintenance of laboratory equipment and overseeing renovation projects. Throughout the years, Olendorff guaranteed the smooth operation of the Department on a daily basis. If a glassware washer called in sick, she made sure there was someone to fill in. If an autoclave machine went down, she found a solution until the machine was back online.
“Whether it was a phone call, email, or face-to-face meeting, you could count on Ann to do her very best to connect an answer to every question that was asked of her,” said Kaslina Love Mosley, Pre-clinical Business Director for the Department. “We are grateful for the dedication Ann showed to the Department of Neuroscience all those years.”
Some of the most intricate projects involved moving highly specialized microscopy equipment into the labs and the former Bakewell Imaging Center. Olendorff worked with engineers and architects to ensure the existing floors could support the weight of all the equipment needed for research. She also identified where items would be located and made sure existing equipment would not create vibrations or electrical interference. “A lot of detailed work went into any new construction and specialized equipment set-ups,” said Olendorff. In one case, she organized an elaborate installation of a precise motion control system that involved bringing it through an upper floor window. “You never knew what you were going to be doing, which was the exciting part,” said Olendorff. “It kept me on my toes.”
Leadership transitions were especially interesting times, said Olendorff, who served under five different chairs and three interim chairs. When a new chair came to the Department, there would be a flurry of moves and hires and Olendorff facilitated many of these transitions. To anticipate new faculty members’ needs, she would read their scientific publications, ask a lot of questions and discuss their work.
“Throughout her 35 years of service to our department, Ann has been a ‘go-to’ person who put in long hours and could also work minor miracles to get the job done,” said David Van Essen, PhD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Neuroscience and former Chair of the Department. “One day it would be helping to initiate repairs on a broken autoclave, the next it would be helping transfer much-needed equipment to a new junior faculty recruit from a senior faculty member who no longer needed it. The next evening she’d be helping respond to a sudden power outage.” Van Essen recalled how Olendorff always managed last-minute and unexpected needs with a smile. “We will miss her enormously but applaud her for setting a high standard of dedication, loyalty, and commitment to our department.”
Olendoff said she is looking forward to having more time to spend with her mother, children and grandchildren.