Silke Deeley’s dream at age 18 was to head to New York City and become a star on Broadway.
Her father insisted on college first, and as Deeley says, life got in the way of her high school dreams of stardom.
However, Deeley is a star in Albany even though it is out of the limelight. Since 2003 she has directed Liberty House, a home for battered woman and their children.
Deeley recently participated in a question-and-answer session with reporter Jim West.
NAME: Silke Deeley
POSITION: Executive Director, Liberty House in Albany
FAMILY: Married to Patrick with four adult children
EDUCATION: University of Iowa, masters, Concordia University; River Forest, Ill.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Working in my high school library, embossing books in the days when they still did that, and putting in the pockets and the covers on them for a big 50 cents an hour. That was my summer job.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?
A. I’m thinking it might have been a record or clothes, since that was all I was interested in at that time.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. Leading by example. I never ask anybody to do anything I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing myself, and to show them how passionate I am about the work we do here at Liberty House.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to do what you’re doing now?
A. This was not where I started. I was a teacher and I taught Foreign Language and Theatre and Speech. Then I started to get interested in expanding my career. Because I taught at a private school at that time, they were cutting back positions and I needed to figure out what I would do the rest of my life. I started back to school, working on a master’s degree and ended up in Human Services. So it was kind of a twist of fate that landed me doing this kind of work. I was a clinician for 10 years, working in the field of mental health and when my husband retired and we moved to Georgia, I guess the powers that be decided that this was the work I was supposed to be in. Here I am, 13 years later.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. My parents were my role models, especially my father. We came from Europe. My father and mother were born in Germany and lived in Germany until I was two. From that point we went to South America. My father was an engineer. He was always interested in seeing the world, I think, because he moved us a number of times. He moved from Germany to South America so we lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a number of years and finally came to Georgia.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. That you can’t count on anything and to become innovative and flexible, because that’s all you can do. There are things that are out of our control.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. The whole automated thing — when you call to get some help for anything and you have to push all these buttons and you never get to talk to a person. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine. We’ve become a society that fails to be able to communicate with one another. Cell phones, as wonderful as they are, I don’t like the idea that I can be found at any place at any time. Although they do serve a purpose.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. The computer is probably the best tool I have. The other one is probably the hole punch. I really like my three-hole punch because we’re always inundated with papers. It really serves the purpose because so many of our papers have to be put somewhere and if we put them in a binder at least I know where they are when I go to look for them.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. My favorite tradition is something which, unfortunately I’ve not been able to partake of since we moved down here. That’s the annual apple picking that I used to do with our children and my husband. We would go up to Michigan and pick apples every September. I really miss being able to do that.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I don’t have a lot of time to read but reading is one of the things I most enjoy. When I have a spare minute or a vacation that’s when I do my most voracious reading. I have a Kindle, so I like the fact that when I do have an opportunity to read something it’s usually a murder mystery. I can’t give you specific authors because it doesn’t matter to me who writes it. I am a fan of Patricia Cornwell.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I wish I could be one of those people who get up at 5 a.m and do all kinds of strenuous things, but I’m not a morning person. If I can be up by 6:30 or 7 I’m doing good. I have to have at least three cups of coffee and I don’t want to talk to anybody for at least the first hour. I watch the news and Good Morning America and, in between, I’m getting myself ready for work.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?
A. The most famous person I think I would like to meet would be Eve Ensler. She’s famous because she deals with a lot of global issues related to women. All of those issues related to gender bias and gender equality and victimization of women and children is very important. She has done an awful lot in a short period of time and she’s done it globally.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. I enjoy reading and I love the theatre. I’d like to be in the theatre if I had the time to do that. It’s a passion of mine.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I’m not sure I’d take any of of what’s happened in my career back. It’s made me the person I am — good or bad. I guess I’m comfortable in my own skin at this point in time.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Being able to work with others who have similar interests and that we are actually able see we’re making a difference.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. That we have to be here at all, because this work seems to be never ending.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Because of the kind of work I’m doing now, my sociology and psychology courses. Not because it’s helped me to analyze other people or have a greater understanding of their situation, but it’s also given me some insight into myself, which is way more important sometimes.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I would be acting on stage, on Broadway in New York. That would be my dream job. I don’t know if I have the talent or the ability to do that. My father talked me out of doing that when I was 18, when I graduated from high school. All I could see was “I’m going to go to Broadway and be an actress.” He said “No you’re you’re going to finish college first.” Then of course, life gets in the the way of our big dreams. I’m a firm believer in destiny, so my plans are not my plans. They’re God’s or fate or whatever you happen to believe steers us to our destiny.
Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…
A. Doing something in the community. Being active. I can’t even imagine being retired, to be honest with you, although I talk about it a lot.
Q. What is the one trait a person in your position cannot afford to be without?
A. You have to be compassionate. You have to be ethical. So often I see that people don’t have the ethics to go along with the responsibilities we’re given, having to be in a non-profit environment. So that’s really really important. And you have to be compassionate to make any social change or do any kind of social work where you’re dealing with other human beings.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. If I only had a crystal ball. I hope that something changes soon. We can’t continue doing the same things over and over again and expecting something different. So you kind of have to take things into your own hands sometimes.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. I listen to a lot of Broadway show tunes. I have a very eclectic taste in music so I could listen to anything from 30’s and 40’s music to classical music. It really depends on what my mood is.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. I would hope that change occurs, because you keep doing the same things over and over again. I would hope that the divisiveness and the prejudice that seems to hover over so many of the decisions that are being made in the community would change. If that doesn’t happen there’s not going to be much that’s different 10 years from now.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. Probably my honeymoon with my husband, but after that we took a four-week trip to Europe with my daughter and my niece when they were teenagers. It was probably one our best vacations because it allowed my relatives, who I hadn’t seen in a very long time and had gotten very very old, to meet the generation of children who were born in the United States and to make those connections with their children.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. What I’ve seen is that the more that changes, much more stays the same and this continues to be a struggle. On gender equality, we take five steps forward and ten steps back, sometimes. I think we have a long way to go but we’re making progress. Little steps going forward.