#GreatFaith: Susan Simar P ’86, ’90, ’91
When visitors walk into Traylor Hall, they immediately feel at home. With oriental rugs, vaulted ceilings, and soft lamps, the room is designed to be inviting, but something much more than the décor contributes to the warm ambience. Her name is Susan Simar, and she is the admission receptionist. “They have walked into my living room,” she says from behind her perfectly organized desk. “I want everyone to be comfortable.”
Born in Front Royal, Virginia, Simar moved to Mercersburg in 1988 when her husband Ron was hired as the athletic director. Although she has been the admission receptionist for 28 years, Simar initially worked in the library. “I always felt so inadequate because I wasn’t a librarian,” she admits. “Connecting with families was such a better fit for my personality.”
Simar compares getting to know prospective students to reading a page-turner. “I feel like I am starting a chapter with each new student, and I want to get to the end of that chapter. But the best part is that the book keeps going.”
A perfect blend of a Southern mother and a Marine father, Simar believes her hosting skills originate from her desire to make others feel less nervous in potentially stressful situations. She even helps coach Blue Keys, the student tour guides, on eye contact and a firm grip. “Make my Marine father proud!” she instructs as they practice how to avoid the “floppy fish handshake.”
With hundreds and hundreds of interviews and campus tours each year, Simar has her work cut out for her. When a family calls to schedule a visit, she arranges the logistics, but this is only part of the process. What many don’t see is the behind-the-scenes preparations. Like a director, Simar keeps her cast, the Admission team, in line—never letting them miss a cue. If a family is waiting, she gently knocks on her colleague’s office door and smiles, offering a kind but urgent reminder that time is ticking. This is all she needs to do. Without hesitation, the interviewer pops up and heads to the foyer to greet the family.
“Timing is everything,” Simar says. “If a tour takes too long, then the student is late for the interview. If the interview goes over the allotted time, the visitor is late to class. Everything plays into the next, and things snowball quickly.”
Simar even knows the perfect time to offer coffee or hot chocolate to her guests. “Always after the tour!” she laughs as if she knows from experience the likelihood a nervous student will spill the contents of a mug.
With over three decades of experience, Simar has seen it all, but she admits that she still has one fear: a family arriving to Traylor that is not on her calendar. Always poised and never flustered, Simar knows exactly what to do if this happens. “Fake it beautifully,” she says. “They will never know.”
Most recently, Simar has adapted to the new database system called Veracross, which she affectionately refers to as “Vera.” Simar confesses that she has a love-hate relationship with Vera and doesn’t trust her completely. To ensure families don’t get lost in cyberspace, Simar keeps handwritten logs in a stenographer’s notebook by her keyboard. Her detailed system, which involves both colors and codes, is her own version of a security blanket, providing comfort and reliability through the numerous changes she has experienced during her tenure at Mercersburg. Although concerns about the new system occasionally keep her up at night, Simar understands that time and patience are essential when experiencing any change. “Something I have learned with age is everything always turns out just fine,” she adds.
When the word retirement is mentioned, Simar says she is taking it year by year. “I’m working because I love what I do. It is really hard to think about not doing it,” Simar explains. “This family—along with my own—is all that I have thought about for the past 32 years.”
Simar’s son, two stepchildren, and granddaughter graduated from Mercersburg Academy. When parents cry in front of her as their child is being interviewed, Simar offers them a tissue and assuages their fears. “They feel better when I share my experiences and stories,” Simar believes.
Although endless amounts of time and energy go into each visit and tour, Simar’s ultimate goal is quite simple: “I love Mercersburg, and I want everyone else to share in that feeling, too.”
Editor’s Note: Susan Simar is one of several Mercersburg community members featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Mercersburg Academy magazine. To meet other members of the Mercersburg community and enjoy all the content of this issue, visit mercersburg.edu/magazine.