Marygrove Conservancy taps Racheal Allen, Tom Lewand for leadership roles

In Racheal Allen’s office in the Liberal Arts Building on the former Marygrove campus, her Marygrove College Class of 2006 picture hangs on one wall. She recently found the photo in the basement of one of the buildings, which she took as a positive sign because 14 years after she graduated from the Northwest Detroit college, the alumna has come full circle.

Today Marygrove Conservancy, the nonprofit working to preserve the legacy of the college that closed its doors this past December, announced Allen’s appointment as chief operating officer. Also announced today is Tom Lewand’s appointment as chief executive officer.


“To be back has been extremely humbling,” Allen says because she had “all of the characteristics of someone who probably should have never graduated” from college. “I was a single mom. I was on welfare, like all of the things that probably should not have led to my trajectory here, kind of happened during the time that I was at Marygrove. What I've been most excited about is communicating to people that my commitments to Marygrove have never left. In fact, it really helped me to stay close to the city.”

In the following years after graduating with a bachelor’s in English and education, Allen has gone on to lead operations for the Education Achievement Authority and the Block By Block/Downtown Detroit Ambassador Program of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. A longtime entrepreneur, she’s also overseeing TechTown’s small business incubator program.

Allen is charged with directing day-to-day operations and financial management of the 53-acre campus, which is home to six buildings, while overseeing partnership strategies and community engagement.

Space is one of the campus’ greatest resources, Allen says. “There is an abundance of space here that we're looking to activate because classes are no longer here.” She envisions Marygrove as a connector for organizations in the community.

“My hope is to partner with groups who are already doing really great work who are kind of at the top of their industry, and then we facilitate the space that goes with that,” she says.

“We want to be good stewards of the campus. We don't necessarily need to get into the programming of these things. There are so many groups that are already doing such amazing work, we really just want to be a conduit to help support the work that's already happening in the community.”

In March and April, the Conservancy will have a series of community conversations and town halls, she says.

“We want feedback from the community about what is nonexistent currently in the community and how they see Marygrove [can] fill that,” she says. While engagement is still in its beginning stages, what she’s heard so far from residents is there is a local need for affordable meeting space.

“There are people that are still meeting in their living rooms, at overcrowded coffee shops because they can't afford room rental rates," she says, so one of the first things the Conservancy did was offer lower rates. Offering affordable space is also a way to introduce people to campus, especially those who may have thought Marygrove was closed off to them.

With a 392-seat theater, “we also see [Marygrove] being the hub for arts and cultural programming,” Allen says. Finally, with her entrepreneurship experience, there have been talks about doing an incubator on the campus.”

The community engagement sessions will help inform and drive the master planning process, which is slated to be completed by June, Allen says.

For Lewand, who stepped down as CEO of Shinola/Detroit LLC late last year and has held several posts in Detroit’s nonprofit and business worlds, including more than 20 years with the Detroit Lions, the role of CEO is “an opportunity to make a big difference in an important part of our city and our community.”

“The opportunity to help not only [usher in] the next chapter of Marygrove and what the campus becomes for the community but also to help the entire area and neighborhood around the Marygrove campus is exciting,” he says.

As CEO, Lewand will focus on development as well as the creation of a long-term real estate development plan for the campus, which comes at a time of increased development in Fitzgerald and Bagley. The neighborhoods are seeing more businesses set up shop as well as people buying homes. He will also coordinate the P-20 partnership, whose seven members are collaborating to bring cradle-to-career educational programs to the campus. The school is up and running with the inaugural ninth-graders almost through their first year.

“It's really a testament to the existing partners in the Conservancy that they've made these strides over the last couple of years. And now Racheal and I are looking forward to helping build upon those successful initial first steps,” Lewand says.

For more information on community engagement events, go to the Conservancy’s website.

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Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.