Retired Executive Assistant to the Dean of Arts and Sciences Albert Mihalek—who spent nearly 43 years of his life a part of the SUNY Plattsburgh community—died in his Plattsburgh home Feb. 14 leaving behind a benevolent memory among friends and loved ones.
“He was one of those unsung heroes that you often see in large organizations,” Co-Associate Dean of Arts and Science Stephen Light said. “ Someone who knows how to make things happen. Someone who knows the right people to call.”
After graduating from the college in 1975, Mihalek joined the staff as an assistant to the dean for 22 years before becoming executive assistant Sept. 1997. Mihalek provided administrative services to about two-thirds of the college’s faculty along with overseeing the greater percentage of the college’s academic programs. He assumed responsibility for academic facilities such as labs and art studios while keeping the budgets of several departments balanced. His substantial work ethic echoed throughout Ward Hall’s dean’s office which framed Mihalek as a legend in Anthropology Professor Andrew Buckser’s eyes who would stand in awe as Mihalek spent late nights and weekends in his office.
“He didn’t have a lot of patience with people who he didn’t think were working hard enough or not doing their job,” Light said. “ But his standards were impossible, because he worked all the time. And so you couldn’t work harder than Al”
Mihalek’s dedication to his work often came from his need to help others. Retired Professor Kathleen Lavoie said Mihalek never second guessed aiding a student. Problems pertaining to a student unable to attend a field trip due to financial troubles were solved within two hours using “back channels” to get a particular amount of money to said student in a timely manner which occurred often according to Lavoie. His kindness would sometimes enable some faculty members, one in particular who impusivly decided to take a van load of students to New York City to a sociology event, to return to his office in need of his services. Lavoie advised against these actions to no avail as Mihalek continully aided the same individuals the following years.
“It was all about the students,” Interim Dean of Arts and Sciences Genie Babb said. “If it was something that would help the students, he just felt committed to making it happen if it offered a good opportunity.”
Buckser acknowledges that Mihalek helped some who, in his opinion, didnt deserve it, but admired his impetus to offer assistance no matter the reason or the cost. Mihalek would sometimes become frustrated with certain rules that impeded his goal of helping others.
“He always tried to do what was right,” Alexandra Mihalek, daughter of Albert Mihalek said. “He was very kind. He loved helping other people. That was the main characteristic that drove what he did.”
Mihalek taught his daughter to always try to help others along with other advice she appreciates to this day. Having practically grown up in her father’s office in hudson hall during his tenure, Mihalek witnessed him actively volunteering within the college’s community with a particular soft for the daycare center of Sibley Hall—which is dedicating a bookshelf to his memory given his passion for reading. Mihalek spent warm days during the pandemic driving to the beach to read in front of a beautiful view. It will house books in accordance to Mihalek’s favorite categories like fatherhood and pets. Sibley is currently accepting monetary donations in order to build the book shelf with a plaque of Mihalek.
He was known for his acute knowledge throughout the dean’s office and unintentionally taught hius collegues life lessons that had helped them years later.
“I learned to step back and look at the big picture, to take my job seriously but find humor in things to make the day better, to look at all the options available when faced with a difficult task and to make the best of every situation,” Administrative Assistant Melanie O’Connell said. “He was truly one-of-a-kind and will be missed by the entire campus community”
Humor seemed to be Mihalek’s panacea for any given situation. Every employee in the dean’s office wes required to submit an annual report of their performance the preceding year, so everyone gathered the necessary documents in a plain binder. Mahalek decided to change the cover of his binder to something different for a laugh. Lavoie recalls an intsnace when his binder cover showcased the “Three Stooges” tv show. His colleagues refer to these particular instances as “stupid laughs.”
“Al was the master of the stupid laugh,” Lavoie said.