'Your actions say volumes'
Mary Boosalis is wellsuited to make history this summer when she becomes the first female chair of the board of trustees of the University of Dayton, born from a school for boys and founded by an order of men.
When Boosalis was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, she didn't envision the string of firsts that would define her future career:
First female president and CEO of Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
First woman to serve as CEO of Premier Health Network, a $2 billion organization and the region’s largest private employer.
And now she stands poised to become the first woman to chair the University of Dayton board of trustees in the school’s 168-year history.
Yet none of these accomplishments — unlikely as they once would have seemed for a young woman of her generation — comes as a surprise to those who know Boosalis best.
“She always just did it, and I never heard her say, ‘I can’t,’” recalls her mother, Evelyn Boosalis.
Now that indefatigable spirit will be leading UD into the next chapter of its history. Mary Boosalis may be a historic choice, but she is first and foremost the right person to lead at this moment in UD history, says outgoing chair Dave Yeager ’75.
“There’s no one better to lead the board right now,” he says.
Boosalis is widely praised for her collaborative style; her business acumen coupled with a sense of mission; her professionalism paired with warmth and humor; her tough-mindedness combined with compassion. Among her champions is University President Eric F. Spina.
“She is passionate about making education accessible, she is passionate about providing health care to the community, and she is passionate about her relationships with other people,” he says. “She is smart as a whip, and she works very hard. As the longtime chair of the board of trustees’ finance committee, Mary would listen carefully and quickly penetrate what was often a complex situation, and then offer invaluable perspectives."
Boosalis joined the University’s board of trustees July 1, 2009. For her role as chair, Spina emphasizes that she was chosen for her expertise, not her gender, but that the milestone she has reached is historic:
“When you think about our history as a school for boys, started by males, taught by males, and now the senior leader of the governing board is going to be a woman? I think that’s something that we should rightly celebrate.”
Boosalis says she hopes she will inspire the women of UD.
“We haven’t as a group completely arrived, so it’s important for women to give back to women,” she says.
Spina recalls meeting Boosalis in the fall of 2016, in the early days of his presidency, and being struck by her warm and welcoming nature — qualities that have enhanced the collaborative spirit of UD’s board.
“With Mary, there’s just genuine care and concern,” Spina says.
Spina notices that people are upbeat, smiling, when Boosalis is leading a meeting. For her part, Boosalis notices the way that Spina speaks as attentively to the waiter serving coffee as he would to a major donor.
“Eric is not someone who is ‘on’ just for the public,” Boosalis says. “He is who he is, and that is incredibly authentic.”
That mutual respect has contributed to partnerships by Premier and UD on significant projects (notably onMain, the redevelopment project of the former Montgomery County fairgrounds; Boosalis will continue to recuse herself from board decisions regarding the project). Spina and Boosalis also share a philosophy of building partnerships within the community.
“As the CEO of another anchor institution, she comes more naturally into the understanding of the role that UD can play locally,” Spina says. “And she understands that we are playing that role not just to be good partners, but for our own good and for the holistic education of our students. We need a strong Dayton to be a strong university.”
Boosalis also sees powerful synergies between the two organizations. “UD focuses on the total person — mind, body, spirit — and we share the same philosophy in health care,” she says.
Premier Health board chair Anita Moore lauds Boosalis for her ability to blend compassion with accountability.
“She sets the bar very high,” Moore says. “She makes sure her people have the tools and resources to do their jobs and holds them accountable. We are in the business of saving people’s lives, and it’s important that everyone is performing to a high level of excellence.”
"She sets the bar very high. She makes sure her people have the tools and resources to do their jobs and holds them accountable."
Jeff Hoagland ’91, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, says Boosalis’ expertise has provided an invaluable contribution to his board: “The health care component is such a dominant sector in the Dayton community, and Mary has been very helpful as we try to attract companies and talent in the region.”
Hoagland says her personal attributes also contribute to her success. He comments that Boosalis is sustained by her faith and perseverance when faced with difficult decisions. “I run into her at the UD chapel sometimes when I pop in there to light a candle,” he says.
Yeager describes Boosalis as insightful and a good listener, someone who understands UD’s close-knit family environment.
“The Marianist charism is the main driver of the board, and she is very supportive of that,” Yeager says. Concurs Spina, “Mary respects the Marianists on the board and solicits their input. That speaks to her understanding of this university and not just businesses and higher education in general.”
The family atmosphere on campus resonates with Boosalis, who grew up in a tight-knit Greek family. Her 97-year-old mother, Evelyn, moved to the Dayton area 11 years ago to be closer to Mary and her family as well as Evelyn’s son Matt, who owns Boosalis Baking in Centerville, Ohio.
“My mother is my hero,” Mary Boosalis says. “She is very other-oriented. And she’s a dynamo. I’ve never met anyone with her resilience, energy and strength.”
In February, Mary Boosalis was recognized by Modern Healthcare business magazine as one of its 2019 Top 25 Women Leaders. “She didn’t boast about it,” Evelyn Boosalis says. Typically, her daughter shies away from kudos and compliments; even as a high school student, she rarely told her parents about her awards. Says her mother, “We had to read about them in the newspaper.”
Mary Boosalis finds her own achievements far less impressive than those of her grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from Greece as teenagers. “They came over on a boat, not knowing the language, with no job prospects and no financial security,” she says.
During World War II, Evelyn Boosalis helped her father to run the family restaurant, the Quick Lunch, in Mason City, Iowa. “We worked non-stop,” Evelyn Boosalis recalls. “I never knew what fatigue was.”
As the fourth of five children, young Evelyn had no intention of leaving her beloved father to run the restaurant by himself.
But Nick Boosalis, a young surgeon, changed her mind.
Nick and Evelyn married in 1952 and raised five children on the grounds of a Veteran’s Administration hospital and later a state hospital in the small town of Porterville, California. Recalls Matt Boosalis,
“Our house was always full of kids and lots of activity. We would linger around the table
Even Mary Boosalis’ managerial skills became evident at an early age. “Mary was always very giving, but also a task master,” Matt Boosalis says. “If Mary said, ‘Fold those socks,’ we folded those socks. She filled us with a strong sense of responsibility.”
Their father was awarded a Purple Heart for a shrapnel injury, a permanent reminder of his service as a paratrooper during the Korean War.
“We had our trials and tribulations, but we always had strong ties as a family,” Evelyn Boosalis says. “The kids adored their father; he was a great humanitarian. Nick always sent money to his poor relatives in Greece. He would deprive himself to help others.”
Mary Boosalis absorbed those lessons, volunteering at the state hospital during high school. “From a very young age I was surrounded by people with developmental disabilities,” she says. “My upbringing and my father’s career as a surgeon were a natural path toward health care.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from California State University at Fresno and a master’s in health services administration from Arizona State University College of Business. In 1985, she packed all of her earthly belongings into her Ford Fiesta and drove across country to Dayton, for a two-year post-graduate fellowship in health care administration at Miami Valley Hospital — and what she assumed would be a short sojourn.
But her foot got caught in the door.
“I had worked 10 years as a critical care nurse, and I kept looking for somewhere special for my next chapter,” she says. “I found that at Miami Valley Hospital — and didn’t want to give it up. So I never looked back.”
Mary Boosalis’ husband, Dayton dermatologist and dermatopathologist Tom Olsen, supports his wife’s decision to serve as board chair, he says, “because we both love UD, and I think she will make a difference.”
While she will be the first board chair not to be a UD alumnus, Mary Boosalis considers herself an adopted alumna: “I am so passionate about UD, you would think that I went there,” she says.
Olsen met his wife-to-be during her fellowship at Miami Valley Hospital.
“She was very appealing, with her brains, personality and energy,” he says. “Mary is so much alive; she is extroverted and friendly, and she is so caring about everyone.”
Mary is so much alive; she is extroverted and friendly, and she is so caring about everyone.
The couple married in 1993. Olsen notes that his wife has “a drive that is unequaled,” but one not fueled by personal ambition: “As the first woman to chair UD’s board, she’s there not for her ego and status, something to build the résumé, but to be a leader for the University, as well as for women and women’s causes. She is driven by the belief that women deserve equal pay and equal say.”
Olsen says his wife’s early career as a nurse endowed her with an empathy that has defined her life both as a professional and a mother: “Our two boys adore their mom. She is a very loving mom and a good role model. They have seen that their mom is a leader, and that she cares about people and about her job, and that she goes about it with great energy and determination.”
If balancing career and family is a tightrope act, then Mary Boosalis is a workforce Wallenda, having attended most of her sons’ games and activities, and having made sure they ate a home-cooked meal every night.
“I struggled forever with that feeling of ambivalence,” she recalls. “I so believe in our mission at Premier Health, yet when I was here, I wanted to be home, and the reverse. The supermom act is not sustainable. You need support.”
She couldn’t have done it, she says, without a husband who was a full partner in parenting. “It was team, team, team all the way,” she says.
Still, she told her sons recently, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more.”
“Oh mom, you’re fine,” they replied. “You’re always there for us.”
But her face clouds at the memory.
“You feel it more than they do,” she says.
During her own childhood, Mary Boosalis’ parents rarely pressured their children or tried to mold them in their own image. “The question was never, ‘Did you get straight A’s but, ‘Did you do the best you can?’” Evelyn Boosalis recalls.
Mary Boosalis adopted a similar Socratic approach to raising her twins, now 20. “Your actions say volumes,” she says. “You don’t need to talk at your kids or issue a lot of platitudes. I think the essence of parenting is what you show them by how you love them.”
Recently the couple watched their son Nick compete in Indiana University’s iconic Men’s Little 500 bike race, made famous by the movie Breaking Away. The day before his own race, Nick took his parents to the Women’s Little 500.
“It’s surprising to me there aren’t more men from the campus, because the women all come to ours,” Nick told his parents.
His mother replied, “You have just seen part of the problem women face, Nick. Keep showing up for women!”
Once again, her proudest achievement can’t be highlighted on a résumé.
“The boys are my complete pride and joy,” she says. “They’re not perfect, but they have good souls.”
With her sons away at college, Mary Boosalis felt freer to accept the time-consuming role of University of Dayton board chair. (Nick is a sophomore at Indiana University; Ben a first-year student at Brown.) She has also gained a keener understanding of the challenges facing college students and their families.
“On a very practical note, I am very aware of what things cost,” she says. “It underscores the importance for the future of access for all students. We don’t want to be elitist or only for the economically advantaged, and that helps to inform me as a board member.”
Yeager says he is leaving the board in good hands: “The board is very sound right now, with trustees who are committed to the University.”
Mary Boosalis agrees, saying the women and men of the board are an impressive lot.
“What they have in common is they believe in the mission and the continuation of Marianist values,” she says. “I have learned more than I have given back.
“You have to change and evolve — our goals and tactics change from year to year — but I think the Marianist values have to be eternal.”
Spina says Mary Boosalis revealed a lot about her fundamental nature by agreeing to serve as UD’s board chair, in spite of her high-pressure job as Premier’s CEO.
“You don’t become board chair for personal glory,” he says. “This is a labor of love for Mary, who embodies our call to ‘learn, lead and serve.’ She is truly a selfless servant.”
The historic appointment of Mary Boosalis as UD board chair has us looking back at other milestones, both in how the University is governed and in partnerships with Miami Valley Hospital.
1878: Society of Mary incorporates its school in Dayton under the name St. Mary College.
1904: Board of trustees is comprised of members of the Society of Mary.
1913: Dayton’s historic flood cripples the kitchen at Miami Valley Hospital. Despite the need for the University to cook three meals a day for 600 refugees, it also finds time to prepare provisions for other inundated institutions, including Miami Valley Hospital.
1925: Founding of the associate board of lay members, made up of alumni, at-large and ex-officio members, “to assist the management of the University in an advisory capacity and to hold, invest and administer the endowment.”
1952: University of Dayton becomes a separate not-for-profit corporation; the Society of Mary retains high-level oversight. Likely part of a national trend among Catholic colleges and universities following World War II to increase size, scope and sophistication to meet post-war societal demands for higher education.
1970: UD delegates all authority to govern to a new board of trustees that includes Marianists, alumni, and lay and community leaders.
1986: University eliminates age restrictions on trustees.
1997: President of the Alumni Association receives a seat on the board.
2000: A $15 million private-public partnership named the Genesis Project is launched to revitalize the Fairgrounds Neighborhood, located between Brown and Main streets and bordered by two Genesis Project partners, University of Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital. The project revives the housing stock, supports neighborhood safety and encourages owner occupancy.
2017: University of Dayton and Premier Health purchase the former Montgomery County fairgrounds and pledge to create a community-minded, mixed-use vision for the 38-acre site, now known as onMain: Dayton’s Imagination District. The land borders the Fairgrounds Neighborhood, UD and Miami Valley Hospital.
2019: Mary Boosalis, CEO of Premier Health, becomes the first female chair of the University of Dayton board of trustees.