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Remembering Marcia Gruver

It’s with a heavy heart that we share news of the passing of Semester at Sea’s longtime friend and first director of alumni affairs, Marcia Gruver (F88, S01).  

When the Institute for Shipboard Education teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh in 1981, the small Semester at Sea staff expanded, and in 1989, Marcia—fresh off the Fall 1988 voyage as the adult coordinator (her husband, Gene, as faculty)—was hired to develop an alumni association. With her trademark Kansas kindness and meticulous attention to detail, she built the foundation of today’s far-reaching and passion-filled Semester at Sea alumni network. Early on in her 12-year career with the program, she enthusiastically tackled a thankless but instrumental task: the building of a Semester at Sea alumni database.

With contact information for only about 10,000 shipmates on record, Marcia turned to old voyage directories—along with referrals and other best practices for gathering contact information on alumni—to grow that number to more than 30,000. In many cases, she and a small team meticulously entered alumni records by hand. The years-long effort, aided by the IT team, culminated in the printing of a pair of all-voyage directories, which reconnected long-lost shipmates and made it possible for generations of alumni to career network. The outcome of this work was meaningful to alumni and key to the growth of Semester at Sea, greatly assisting in its fundraising and marketing efforts. 

All the while, Marcia worked with then-director of enrollment management Paul Watson to build a group of part-time alumni recruiters, enlisting alumni who had sailed as resident directors and adult passengers to help spread the word about Semester at Sea across the country and world. She created Shipmates, the alumni newsletter, and gave alumni a seat at the decision-making table by establishing the first Alumni Advisory Board. She planned and executed all-voyage reunions at venues in Colorado and Long Beach and aboard two Semester at Sea ships. She also partnered with alumni around the country to build an alumni chapter network, connecting shipmates with each other and those preparing to sail.

Elaine Deutsch, who sailed as a student in the Fall of 1971 and as a resident advisor in 1974, was one of many alumni who reconnected with Semester at Sea through Marcia’s early efforts. She’s remained a committed advocate and friend of the program, serving as a chapter rep, recruiter, member of the alumni development committee, and today serves as a committee member advising the Board of Trustees.  

“Marcia created the first Alumni Advisory Board (AAB), dangling the opportunity to ‘spend a night on the ship in Bahamas’ as incentive to give a little more and participate,” Elaine fondly recalls, noting that many of the original alumni board members—people such Loren Crabtree, Richard Pritzlaff, Stuart Saunders, Mary Thielemeir, Vince Taormina, Jenn Hicks, and Milt Waldron to name a few—have also remained loyal friends to the program thanks to the networking Marcia facilitated.  

“And she knew how to keep people engaged,” continues Elaine. “There was a weekend ‘trip to nowhere’ in 2000 from Vancouver to Seattle and an auction on the Queen Mary when the Universe was being replaced by the Universe Explorer. She raised significant amounts of money and engaged many alums who had been ‘lost.’ Marcia was creative in developing ways to get new alumni involved and keep people giving to the program. She had a soft-sell approach, always smiling and being so very warm, treating everyone as if they were her best friend. Marcia remained loyal to the program, even after she left the staff and participated in Reunion Voyages and events.” 

Marcia also helped nurture and shape the Pittsburgh office. She is remembered by her colleagues as incredibly kind and welcoming—she always went out of her way to make people—whether colleagues or alumni—feel like an irreplaceable part of the Semester at Sea family, and she was genuine in those efforts. Many of her alumni office mentees are forever thankful for her instilling in them close attention to detail, an appreciation for accurate data, and the important life lesson of always giving others the benefit of the doubt. Marcia, Gene, their children Candice and John, and six grandchildren are in our hearts.

Marcia’s obituary is available here.

  • Alumni

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