Heartbeat of the Lab: Celebrating 47 Years at Temple
On a chilly day in November 2021, in her 47th year of employment at Temple University, Nancy Reichenbach stood outside the Temple University Medical Research and Education Building (MERB) and blew a whistle on her career at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
She had been handed the whistle moments before and followed directions to deliver four loud blasts in quick succession. The sound was answered by four staccato notes from another whistle, out of sight. Then two dozen members of the Temple University Diamond Marching Band, dressed in cherry and white uniforms, turned the corner of the building, followed their drum major up the ramp, and began to play.
“It was absolutely incredible. I was bowled over,” Ms. Reichenbach said of the surprise sendoff that capped a retirement party already rich with meaning.
On November 29, Nancy Reichenbach retired from her position as Associate Scientist in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine after 47 years but her Temple bona fides stretch all the way back to her birth at Temple University Hospital. She went on to graduate from Temple University with a degree in education in 1971. And other than teaching for a year, this purebred Owl spent her entire career at the medical school.
During her long tenure at the medical school, she worked in two specialized labs. The first, Robert J. Suhadolnik, PhD, had brought her to the medical school to help him compile the author index for a book he was writing. That work morphed into a full-time position in the former Biochemistry Department, where she learned laboratory techniques on the job. When Dr. Suhadolnik retired in 2008, Ms. Reichenbach transferred to the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and began working directly with its Chair, Yuri Persidsky, MD, PhD. She managed the pathology lab, ushering in all the graduate students who came through, and conducting research on one of Dr. Persidsky’s primary areas of focus, the blood-brain barrier and how it is affected by disease.
Over the years, the results of her research have been published in scientific articles 77 times. Her career highlight, she said, was when she was working in biochemistry and gave a research presentation at Cambridge University on chronic fatigue syndrome.
Forty-seven years. Why did she stay at Temple for so many years?
“I found the two positions very stimulating,” she said. “I certainly enjoyed working with the international post-doctoral students, and students and faculty. It’s just very challenging and interesting work.”
Asked what advice she would give to someone just starting out, she didn’t hesitate in her response: “Keep an open mind,” she said. “You never know where the next great idea is going to come from. It could be from your boss, your lab mate or whomever you happen to be having lunch with that day. And listen to all the collaborators, particularly to those from other countries, because their input can be priceless.”
Her colleagues described her as very hard-working, dependable, and having a great sense of humor. Over the years, deep bonds grew from simple things. A group of about 10 co-workers brought their breakfasts in and ate together every morning, sharing family stories and solving any technical problems in the lab. Ms. Reichenbach, usually the first one in, made the coffee.
“She was the heartbeat of the lab,” said her colleague, Malika Winfield, an assistant scientist. “I called her the lab mom, whether she wanted the title or not. If anyone had a question, if anyone needed anything, they went to Nancy.”
Marc Graver, Senior Administrator for the department, collaborated closely with Ms. Reichenbach. “Nancy would jump in and help with anything. She spent her entire career here and she knew everything about Temple, where to go, who to call,” he said.
But when it came time for her retirement party, it turned out that it was the resourceful Milika Winfield who found the answer to a perplexing question.
Over the 10 years that they had worked together, Ms. Winfield said that Ms. Reichenbach had many times said that she wanted a marching band when she retired. (She had played the glockenspiel in her high school marching band.) But getting any musical group to perform live was proving exceptionally hard because of the pandemic. Then Ms. Winfield sent an email to Matthew Brunner, Temple University’s Director of Athletic Bands, and and was thrilled to get a positive response.
“When I read his email, I just pushed back my chair and did my happy dance,” she said with a laugh.
About 40 people were invited to the retirement party, a catered lunch that was held in a conference room on the eighth floor of MERB. Dr. Amy J. Goldberg, Interim Dean of the School of Medicine, made remarks honoring Ms. Reichenbach as did Dr. Persidsky.
Mr. Graver presented a PowerPoint featuring photos of Ms. Reichenbach through the years, capturing the span of time that she had worked at Temple, which had begun in July 1974.
Since that time, he said, there had been five Popes, 10 U.S. Presidents, one Queen of the United Kingdom, and seven Temple University Presidents. The Phillies, a passion of Ms. Reichenbach’s, had compiled a winning average of .503. Another point he made: of the 72 people currently working on the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine floor, only 30 had already been born when Reichenbach arrived for her first day.
Ms. Reichenbach’s sister, Sherry Krider, arranged another highlight for the retirement celebration: a 20-minute Zoom call from the Norristown Zoo featuring Stella, the Temple Owl, and her handler.
Then, it was time for the final surprise, a trip down the elevator to the front of the building. Everyone was told to grab their coats.
Always full a good sport, Ms. Reichenbach complied and stood outside, not knowing why. As the band marched up and began to play a repertoire that included the Temple fight song, curious people on several floors of the glass-fronted building put their noses up to the windows to watched the spectacle below.
“The fact that she was born here, went to school here, and never left here. That’s why we wanted to make this special,” Mr. Graver said. “We wanted it to be meaningful for her because she had made all of our experiences meaningful with her.”
Asked what she will miss the most, Ms. Reichenbach said it would be “the congeniality” of her group. “I think it will be the day-to-day contact,” she said. “They were not just my colleagues; they were all my friends.”
- Lillian Swanson