Opening Doors for the Next Generation: Ann MacLachlan Zaleski ’69
One thing was clear to Ann MacLachlan Zaleski '69 when the Detroit native was choosing a college to further her education. She was looking for a small liberal arts institution with a window to the world. In fact, she wanted more than a window with a view—MacLachlan wanted a door, open to the experience of being immersed in another culture. She found that open door at Kalamazoo College.
“I really wanted to study abroad, and Kalamazoo College made that very easy,” she said. “The foreign study experience was seminal in my life. The other main aspect was the small size of student classes and access to faculty at K. I liked the cultural life—theatre and music—and the accessibility of a smaller campus.”
A French major with a minor in music, MacLachlan spent her much-anticipated study abroad time in Caen, France.
“My education helped prepare me for my life,” MacLachlan said. “The international atmosphere of K, despite it being a very small college, was so motivational, as were the courses and the professors. I have always thought that once one has lived abroad for a significant period of time—several months at least—that one can never go ‘home’ again or that one is never fully American again, nor ever fully a foreigner. But you are a better person for it. You are enriched with a greater insight and are more critical of both your homelands.”
After completing an internship at a public library in Washington, D.C., and upon completing her senior individualized project student teaching French at Hillside Middle (then Junior High) School as well as playing in the Kalamazoo Bach Orchestra and singing in the all-girls choir at Stetson Chapel, MacLachlan graduated magna cum laude from K. She then earned a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Michigan.
About her career after graduation, MacLachlan said: “My path was a bit wavy. I spent two years abroad before coming back to Michigan to earn my master's degree. The first year was a direct outgrowth of my Kalamazoo College experience, in that I was chosen as a Fulbright fellow to be a language assistant at a high school in Pau, in southwestern France. The second year was also connected with K, since I chose to study for a year in Munich, where I had several friends who I had met at K. Those years were an exercise in independence.”
In 1974, MacLachlan moved to Washington, D.C., where she landed a job at a budding energy newsletter, The Energy Daily.
“The rest is history,” she said. “I learned journalism on the job and spent the rest of my career reporting on energy—mainly nuclear energy—including more than 30 years with the company once called McGraw-Hill, now known as S&P Global. The K experience was important in this position in that a liberal arts education taught me to be curious about everything and open to everyone.”
MacLachlan became a well-known and respected expert in the world nuclear community and worked as the European Bureau Chief of Platts Nuclear Publications, based in Paris, France. She wrote hundreds of articles, interviewed officials and experts worldwide, and attended countless press events, seminars, meetings and conferences, expanding her expertise.
In 2001, MacLachlan was inducted as a chevalier (knight) into the French Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of her contribution to information on nuclear safety and communication in France. In 2013, MacLachlan began working as a freelance journalist and consultant on nuclear energy, safety, and communication issues, and moderating conferences while based outside Paris.
“I retired 10 years ago,” MacLachlan said. “I live with my French-Polish husband—who is still working at 95—just outside Versailles. We enjoy travel. Our latest travel was a small-ship cruise in the Baltic Sea in July, and we are planning on Greenland next year. We vacation when we can in Chamonix.”
At this point in her life, MacLachlan looks back on her years at Kalamazoo College with fondness. Her memories are many.
“I recall preparing for foreign study by watching movies like Night and Fog and The Demoiselles of Cherbourg,” she said. “Traying down the hill on the quad in winter—that was everyone's favorite. Language tables at dinner, where I met my first husband but didn't know at first whether to address him as Du or Sie. Living with other seniors and several exchange students from France and Germany in Nuss House, fondly dubbed Nuthouse (now known as Hodge House, the president's residence). Making crêpes in the dorm for the group of French students visiting for a week and taking them to Greenfield Village. The whole of foreign study in Caen, and the wonder of discovering so many places in Europe.”
Remembering mentors and professors, MacLachlan named: “Dr. Dave Collins, who guided me through my French major with humor, elegance, and a sunny nature. Our small group of French majors thrived under his care. Dr. Joe Fugate, for his masterful shepherding of the foreign study program. And two exchange professors: Dr Jean-Pierre Fichou, my first French professor at K, who gave me confidence that I could make it despite my deficit in knowledge on arrival at K after just two years of (sluggish) high school French, and Dr. Hans Grüninger, from whom I learned so much about the interface between French and German in Switzerland.”
MacLachlan credits her Kalamazoo College years for giving her the confidence and ability to meet new challenges with an open mind to diversity and tolerance.
“K broadened my horizons enormously,” she said. “I don’t know how that would have happened without K.”
Her fond memories and realization of how Kalamazoo College has shaped her career and life have inspired MacLachlan to now travel full circle and give back to the place that so enriched her. She has designated Kalamazoo College as primary beneficiary of one of her 401(k) plans and is giving two charitable gift annuities to her beloved alma mater.
“The annuities became possible when I inherited part of my mother's estate, and the idea of a long-term fixed income combined with K’s tax-free status seemed the perfect solution,” MacLachlan explained. “The same reasoning applies to the 401(k). Being a U.S. citizen and French resident is not simple financially, due to the French tax and inheritance law as well as recent U.S. legislation that complicates international transactions. It just made sense to name Kalamazoo College as my primary beneficiary. Such contributions are crucial to allowing young people from all backgrounds to benefit from the K experience, academically and socially, just as I did. It's the best gift you can give yourself while helping the next generations reap the benefit of a first-class education.”
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