Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Patty Patano

Dowagiac City Clerk Patty Patano

Huge Dowagiac Booster Patty Patano Proud Town She Calls Home Has SMC

Published on December 6, 2022 - 1 p.m.

Dowagiac City Clerk Patty Patano didn’t grow up in this community or attend Southwestern Michigan College except for a ceramics course.

So how did she end up on the SMC Foundation board for the past decade, since August 2012, supporting the college financially through donations? The foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation created in 1970, bridges the gap between students’ needs and resources with scholarships.

“I am a product of community college (Los Angeles Pierce College),” she said. “I’m very proud that this town has one. I’m a Dowagiac booster from the word go.

“I absolutely recognize the value of community colleges,” Patano said, “and the value of this institution to this town. Like my nephew says, ‘Dowagiac always surprises you,’ like Dowagiac Chief in the Kentucky Derby. I’m so proud of everything this school does. I’ve come through the years to see musicals and plays. This place has so much to offer in addition to what it offers students. I’m absolutely crazy about where we are going right now” by reviving intercollegiate athletics.

“I grew up with major Notre Dame fans,” like the uncle with “Go Irish” on his tombstone, Patano said. “My youngest sister went there and so did her three girls. I love the idea that they as a school have been able to incorporate a sports program that does not in any way diminish their education program, which is still highly regarded. That model, to me, is terrific because it increases interest in the school and brings in kids, who feel so special with all these signings.”

Patano declared it “outstanding” when both of SMC’s 2021 cross country squads achieved NJCAA All-Academic status. The men compiled a 3.21 GPA, with the women a step ahead at 3.22 overall.

Patano spent 35 years in the California corporate world, from working with future Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, whose torch crossed Cass County through Edwardsburg along U.S. 12 en route to the summer games, to employment with J.D. Power. Those ubiquitous awards, seen lined up in so many television commercials? She played a part in their creation.

While she grew up in Chicagoland, specifically Oak Park, the oldest of four daughters, Dowagiac “has always been home in my heart,” and home in actuality since 2010. “I didn’t have to throw a dart when I wanted out of Los Angeles. I always knew where I could go for a lower cost of living.”

Her late mother, Gladys Olejniczak Patano, bought a house at 90 that President Dr. Joe and Laura Odenwald lived in when they came to town in 2017; it is the current home of Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Whan.

Gladys was born in 1922, the same year Caruso’s opened and her grandparents arrived from Poland. Her grandpa worked for Round Oak and appears in a photo displayed in Dowagiac Area History Museum.

Patano’s mother worked for Round Oak, too, until she left for Chicago for nursing school. She returned to work at Lee Memorial Hospital, now Ascension Borgess-Lee, for Dr. Kenneth Pierce.

Her aunt, Irene Brosnan, published the Dowagiac Daily News in the 1960s. Uncle Ted Olejniczak delivered mail. Uncle Jack’s brother, Postmaster Dan Brosnan, served on SMC’s charter Board of Trustees. Sisters, nieces, nephews and their children still return to their E. Division Street homestead. In fact, for a few months, Patano attended Lincoln School.

She mounted the rare successful write-in candidacy for clerk in 2019, securing the position by a 2-1 margin over her male opponent. That election also returned SMC Financial Aid Systems Analyst Danielle Lucas to City Council for four years.

“My commitment to Dowagiac is strong,” Patano campaigned. “My career in the corporate arena prepared me well. I’m a self-starter with a proven track record of business and marketing accomplishments. In addition, I’ve served as a volunteer and board member for organizations helping foster children, underprivileged youth, people in poverty and those recovering from drug addiction.”

Just in her decade as a Dowagiac denizen, Patano worked for the Cass County Council on Aging in community development, a case manager for three years for Judge Susan Dobrich’s Cass County Drug Court and for the funeral home and Smoke Vision.


Chicago, then ‘Power’ in California

“When my grandparents lived here, we came a lot of weekends or in the summer” from Chicago, where her father, Thomas, worked in advertising for the Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. The city had four dailies, including the Tribune and the American.

“Berenice Vanderburg used to write in her column when we visited,” Patano said. “We thought that was the coolest thing! We moved to California the day after I graduated high school in ’68 because my dad was transferred to Los Angeles. My mother knew Julie Power — Julie Pierce — from Dowagiac. They were at our house telling my parents that they had just started a company they were doing at their kitchen table. I had my own business for a while. Eventually I went to talk to Dave Power because I had that connection” with a company founded April 1, 1968, that became a household name in customer satisfaction through independent market research.

The family sold the business in 2005. Dave Power had married Julie Pierce on July 21, 1962, at Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Silver Creek Township. Julie died in April 2007.

On Jan. 25, 2021, Patano wrote, “So sorry to hear of the passing of my old boss, J.D. ‘Dave’ Power. He was a trailblazer who sought to make the auto industry better. He then went on to improve businesses of every kind using customer satisfaction as the standard.”

SMC’s 2019 Nursing and Health Education Building features the Dr. Kenneth and Gertrude Pierce Family Hallway of History thanks to a $50,000 contribution from Power’s Penrose Kitchen Table Foundation.

Patano joined J.D. Power in 1988. “That’s about when they really started branching out from cars,” she said. The awards themselves “are my claim to fame,” she said. “I recommended them because I had been with the Olympic Organizing Committee and was well versed in what it takes to protect a brand like the five-rings symbol. I applied the Academy Awards model, the Oscars, and went to Dave and recommended that he get stricter or its value would be diluted. It was a laborious process but being involved with protecting it was a fun part of my career.”

“My first move into management at 25 was with the budget chain Motel 6. I was managing their PR before Tom Bodett left the light on,” she laughed. “They moved their corporate headquarters to Santa Barbara which, at the time was the ‘newlywed and nearly dead’ town. Nobody who lived in L.A. wanted to move there, so I went out looking for a job and got hired by Peter Ueberroth’s travel company. Package tours were big then and they had a hotel division with properties in Hawaii, just a variety of things.”

Listening to Patano, one can tell she is a satisfied customer herself...of Dowagiac and of SMC, as well as an avid supporter of both. It’s clear she also has a lot to offer to her home and her school.