Celebrating the Impact of Harold Kleinert

On July 1, 2015, Dr. Harold Kleinert will retire after decades of dedicated service as the Executive Director of the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute. In the past two weeks, we have celebrated his contributions with an HDI All Staff meeting that included a “hostile takeover” with a jeopardy trivia game, top ten list, and brown bag lunches (in honor of Harold’s traditionally frugal apple and cheese sandwich lunches). The university also held a retirement reception on Friday, May 26 that included staff and faculty from the University of Kentucky, our state agency partners, and especially families, their children, and the self-advocates who have worked with us so closely over these years. Thanks also for the planning committees for doing a beautiful job!

According to Kathy Sheppard-Jones:

Harold is a passionate advocate, a committed educator, a brilliant researcher, and a visionary leader. He is a compassionate leader who drives HDI’s work at all levels, and HDI’s accomplishments have been his accomplishments. It is hard to make the distinction between HDI and Harold because he has influenced so much how HDI works—across projects, across the University, across the state and the nation.

Harold’s vision is simple. It is HDI’s mission … “To promote the inclusion, independence, and contributions of people with disabilities and their families throughout the lifespan.” In his gentle, persistent way, Harold has made sure all of us at HDI share that vision as well. Perhaps I should say endless optimistic persistence because Harold never gives up. He views working with bureaucracy and agencies as opportunities not obstacles, because they are systems that can make big changes and have lasting impacts for people with disabilities and their families. HDI has collaborated and continues to have relationships with virtually every agency that is involved in providing services for individuals with disabilities. Throughout Harold’s time at HDI he has made systems change happen through relationships. The Community Based Work Transition program, a program that has provided critical job opportunities in rural areas for over 30 years was established by three individuals. The National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Down Syndrome Resources, that provides fair and accurate information to expectant mothers originated at the back of a conference room by Harold and HDI staff member, Stephanie Meredith. Kentucky’s groundbreaking work in higher education began with a small group of families, some idealistic staff, and Harold, recognizing that there was something better for students with intellectual disabilities who wanted to further their education. The examples could go and on.

Harold knows how to mobilize resources to put it mildly. He is famous at HDI for his personal frugality, bringing his lunch of cheese sandwiches in paper bags even to national conferences. He can make money dance. Harold can calculate salaries and administrative costs with a calculator faster than our trusted spreadsheet algorithms. Under Harold’s leadership, HDI has bought in over 80 million dollars in grant funding from just about every possible funding agency. Harold knows how hard it is get a grant and insists that every dollar be recognized for the impact it can have, particularly when leveraged. He also knows that not all good and necessary ideas get funded and is skilled at finding resources to launch them. Lack of funding never stopped him from getting a necessary change to occur. For example, we knew that there were serious health and wellness needs for people with disabilities. We started a small money-less initiative to build a case for change, and just in the past year, our health and wellness programming has impacted hundreds of people, dozens of agencies, and now is poised to blow the doors off, with multiple grant proposals submitted, and more in the works.

While it is impossible to touch on all of the areas in which Harold excels—publications (well in excess of 100), presentations, and research, it is his work with students that is perhaps one of the most far reaching. Harold’s unbridled enthusiasm in the classroom is infectious. He brings learning to life for his students. He finds ways to connect what he talks about to the real world, and to what it means for students. He has driven us to always bring the best of ourselves to teaching, to presenting, and to sharing, because if we aren’t excited and engaged, how can we expect our students to be engaged? Harold truly recognizes the importance of teaching pre-professionals. It is they who will go forward and touch lives of those whom they serve. It is our job to prepare them well, for there is much important work to be done. He has served on countless graduate student committees across colleges. His door is, literally, always open for students. He is their champion. He motivates them, he validates them, and he values them. He mentors them to present, to publish and to do great work.

Harold has inspired, motivated, and empowered HDI staff to make our vision happen. He does that by focusing on people first, not projects. He sees the strength in all of us and our ability to contribute and make a difference in a vision much bigger than us. Those of us who have had Harold as our boss know that often we find ourselves willingly pushing harder and working better than we have ever done before. Not because he asked us to do so but because he did it first, and we found ourselves wanting to be like him. That is Harold; he makes leaders.

He knows the task ahead for HDI is still great and urgent. He also has faith that HDI will continue to work tirelessly to achieve its mission. Because if there is one thing Harold has taught us, it is this—at the end of the day it is not the number of projects or the number of grant dollars that matter but instead whether or not we have made a difference in the lives of people and the lives of their families.

On the behalf of the HDI staff, I would like to say ‘Thank you, Dr. Kleinert’ for making a difference in our lives, a difference that will live long and continue to bear fruit for the population of people you served so tirelessly throughout your long and dedicated career.