Tradition Spring 2021
Tradition Spring 2021

A Legacy of Achievement:
President Dominic DiMarco Retires

Retiring Cranbrook Educational Community President Leaves Legacy of Achievement

Certain leaders seem made for their times. That has certainly been the case for Cranbrook Educational Community President Dom DiMarco. With his calm, pragmatic and compassionate style, he has helped lead Cranbrook through not just one but two global crises: the Great Recession and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Last spring, as DiMarco prepared to retire after a 12-year career at Cranbrook, the first Covid-19 cases began making their way to Michigan from the West Coast, soon overwhelming hospitals and bringing the normal patterns of life to a halt. It quickly became clear that this was a crisis unlike any the country had seen in more than a century.

Asked to extend his tenure one more year, DiMarco readily agreed and joined with Cranbrook’s board and administrative leadership team to find ways to keep students, faculty, families and staff safe while ensuring the health of the organization as a whole.

“He is a true partner,” says Director of Schools Aimeclaire Roche, who will succeed DiMarco as CEC president. “He trusts the people he works with to do their jobs. He is uncompromising on the concept of ‘we do things the right way’ by adhering to a process and by maintaining our values. To have that kind of ethical compassion in a leader is wonderful.”

This July, DiMarco will attempt retirement once more, looking back over a chapter in Cranbrook history that has seen tremendous growth with a steadfast adherence to the original intention of Cranbrook’s founders: to create a place of great beauty where intellectual and creative excellence can thrive.

DiMarco at reunion greeting faculty, alumni and their families

Part of the Cranbrook family

DiMarco’s first experience with Cranbrook was “as a father at the front door of Brookside and it has happily evolved into the journey of a lifetime,” he says. “From that first day on campus to my last, I will continue to be energized by the great spirit of this community.”

In 2008, after a lengthy and distinguished career at Ford Motor Company, DiMarco joined Cranbrook as its chief operating officer, mere months before the onset of the Great Recession. At a time when the entire country—and soon, the rest of the world—was hit with a seismic economic shock, DiMarco quickly put his years of experience to work in helping Cranbrook navigate the difficult path ahead.

The recession hit right as the community was set to undertake two of its most expansive, important and long-awaited capital efforts: the construction of the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls and the Art Museum renovation and expansion.

While other organizations put a stop to construction, it was not so simple a decision with these two projects. The Girls Middle School had quite simply outgrown its confined footprint in the lower level of the Kingwood School building and with major alumni investments in the development of a new space, it was not something easily put on hold. Similarly, the expansion and renovation of the Art Museum had become a matter of protecting historically valuable artwork and ensuring that Academy of Art graduate students had the space to develop their often groundbreaking creative initiatives.

“Cranbrook never shied away from the commitment to do these projects,” says Jean-Claude Azar, director of capital projects at Cranbrook. “They came at the worst time during the financial collapse, but Dom argued that it was the best time to do this because we would get more for our money. No one was working, and I remember lines of contractors (wanting to take part). Dom had the courage to do this.”

The situation marked an early sign of DiMarco’s commitment to the Cranbrook campus and what it means to the entire Cranbrook experience. “His love for the physical place has a huge impact,” says Roche. Having a campus that matches the excellence of the work going on in the classroom plays an important role in classroom instruction, she adds. “It gives children a sense of self-esteem. They feel respected and worthy of a beautiful place. If a place is falling down, kids would think differently about themselves.”

Aimeclaire Roche and Dom DiMarco flanked by spouses Nathan Costa and Erin DiMarco at the Cranbrook Winter Pageant

Building toward the future

Investing in the Cranbrook campus became a hallmark of DiMarco’s tenure, helping bring the storied acres and architecture back to their original glory while adding pieces that expanded that beauty and utility even further. 

Says Cranbrook Schools Director of Stewardship Charlie Shaw, “Dom brought to his tenure at Cranbrook a readiness to plunge into campus restoration, repair and building. It’s been delightful to all of us who have seen the wavering fortunes of campus infrastructure over the years. Dom’s attention really was panoramic, and he took a really intense interest in the work, including restoration that had been deemed to be too daunting or too difficult to undertake.”

The results of that work have been outstanding, restoring the beauty of the campus and its structures and adding new elements that build upon the history and artistry of the community as a whole. “Alumni unfailingly exclaim about the appearance of the campus,” says Shaw. A long walk across campus reveals the true breadth of that transformation, with projects including:

  • A new entrance to Cranbrook House and Gardens, incorporating original Samuel Yellin gates, long stored and unused; 
  • The Art Museum addition with its expanded visitor spaces, artist studios and state-of-the-art collections building; 
  • The long-awaited Girls Middle School building, with unique spaces for each grade level;
  • The Thompson Oval with the rebuilt stands for spectators, press box, scoreboard and synthetic field;
  • The Cranbrook Quad and Alumni Courtyard, the culmination of a decade-long project designed to honor and celebrate graduates, faculty and the history of the space;
  • The Kingswood Café in the lower level of Kingswood, giving students a place to gather and call their own; 
  • The Keppel Gymnasium locker rooms, ensuring equitable facilities for boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity teams;
  • The Brookside roof, a five-year repair and renovation project that ensured historical accuracy for the school’s familiar slate roof.

People make the place

Beyond the expansion and renovation of physical spaces at Cranbrook, DiMarco also supported initiatives that opened Cranbrook up to more people and built upon its reputation for academic excellence. 

He supported, for example, free admission to Cranbrook Gardens, welcoming individuals and families from throughout the area to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of the lovingly tended flower beds—the work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers. 

During his tenure, Cranbrook Schools became the first school in the Midwest to form an educational collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Edgerton Center, helping Cranbrook educators accelerate innovation in curriculum and teaching. 

He has also earned the trust and respect of Cranbrook’s top philanthropic partners, who have invested significantly in Cranbrook’s campus and programs, creating a solid foundation for future growth. That foundation is supported by a campus master plan that DiMarco spearheaded, one that is designed to further expand and solidify Cranbrook’s legacy as a leading center for education, science and art. 

“I’m proud to have been able to support our dedicated program directors, staff and faculty on these remarkable projects, and most pleased with the collaborative nature of our community,” DiMarco says. 

All of these efforts have been designed to support Cranbrook’s greatest asset: its people. “In my opinion, it really is the people that make Cranbrook such a special place,” DiMarco says. “It’s Cranbrook’s founders, George and Ellen Booth, with their incredible vision and spirit of giving; it’s the dedicated employees and volunteers; it’s the passionate donors; it’s the admirable alumni from the Schools and the Academy of Art; it’s the current students who strive for excellence; and, of course, our visitors to our public museums.” 

Securing the future

As DiMarco prepares to step into his well-deserved retirement this summer, he remains focused on ensuring the safety and prosperity of a community he loves. First and foremost, the goal is to continue to keep students, faculty, staff and visitors safe as the pandemic continues. Schools administrators, for example, were able to make use of the CEC’s extraordinary campus to create distance for its students and implement safety protocols that have made in-person classroom instruction possible throughout the academic year. 

“He is a person who can make decisions even in critical times,” says Azar. “Even if it’s tough, he’ll stick with it and see it through.” 

Adds Roche, “The whole concept of safety and security has flourished (with Dom),” says Roche. “Kids need to feel that their environment is one they can be in safely. They need that to learn.” 

That has meant trusting and supporting the work of his colleagues as they chart a course through this unprecedented time. “He believes the people he works with are his partners, and he trusts them to do their jobs,” says Roche. “He’s versed across place and program and understands everyone’s work. Because of that, he has absolute credibility. He’s like the mayor of a small town.”

DiMarco says he will continue to celebrate and support this community that has meant so much to him. “Cranbrook has served the most fulfilling chapters of my professional life, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the trust and special relationships that have developed with trustees, governors, parents, alumni and, of course, our faculty and staff during this time. To be a part of something and some place so special has truly been my honor.”

When Dom DiMarco announced his pending retirement in October of 2019, members of the search committee surveyed the community to get feedback on the leadership qualities that constituents wanted to see in a candidate who could help move the strategic vision of the institution forward. As the committee took in the input from constituents from all divisions of CEC, they became increasingly aware that there was an ideal candidate in their midst in Director of Schools Aimeclaire Roche, better known as AC. DiMarco noted that the pandemic created a situation where all leaders were tested, and notes “Over the past several months, we have seen AC deploy her extraordinary leadership skills to unite our community, and show incredible pragmatism in the face of constantly evolving needs.” Last fall, when Roche accepted the role of Cranbrook Educational Community’s ninth President, the two leaders set forth a plan that would make the transition as seamless as possible. DiMarco graciously agreed to stay on through the end of the 2021 school year to work closely with Roche and to give Cranbrook Schools ample time to conduct a national search for a new Director of Schools. That mission was accomplished in February when Dr. Jeff Suzik was named the next Director of Cranbrook Schools. Suzik, a Michigan native, is currently the Director of Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is also an associate professor at the School of Education (see Dr. Suzik’s reflections in this issue).

All transitions will take place July of 2022.