Getting Personal: Molly Delaney

Getting Personal: Molly Delaney

Getting Personal is a Q&A with a local personality. Today, Molly Delaney chats with The News-Gazette’s Melissa Merli. The 50-year-old Paxton resident is plotting a move to Champaign-Urbana. She recently became executive director of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation, which provides opportunities for the community to invest in sound, innovative ideas to strengthen C-U public schools.

So ... what's new with you?

It has been a summer of change, so everything is new. I switched jobs in late May. My parents moved out of my childhood home in June. My oldest daughter graduated from high school this spring and leaves for college (UI) in another week. Basically, I've spent the summer adjusting to major life changes.

I read where you worked on your master's degree while raising three children. What advice would you give other parents who are doing that?

Don't try to be perfect. Share your successes and your failures with your kids. Let them see you study and struggle. Talk about the challenges.

What was the hardest thing about going to school while raising kids?

Finding the right pace. At first, I was frustrated because I thought I needed long blocks of uninterrupted study time. Then I discovered my brain works best when I take frequent breaks, so I adjusted my expectations. Instead of reading an entire chapter in one setting, I scheduled myself for 20-minute chunks. I alternated between being a student, a teacher and a mom several times an hour. It sounds exhausting, but somehow it worked.

What was your experience like being on the national advisory council to the Reading to Lead in Literacy program?

Wow! I'd almost forgotten about that. As I recall, it involved lots of lengthy conference calls. It was not quite as glamorous as it sounds. The conferences were fun, and I was grateful for the opportunity to share ideas with colleagues from across the country.

What do you think of The I.D.E.A. Store? Do you shop there?

The I.D.E.A. Store fills me with joy. I walk in the door, and I am instantly inspired. The educator in me sees a gazillion classroom projects. The maker in me sees color and beauty and strangeness and potential. And when I walk in the back room, I see order and purpose emerging from chaos. I shop there. I volunteer there. I tell everyone I know to go there.

Do you have any hobbies, and if so, what are they?

More than hobbies, I have passions that keep me sane. I garden and run and bake. Occasionally, I go through phases where I sew or paint or build crazy things. Sometimes my attempts to keep myself sane can look a little insane.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I don't get up at the same time every day, but I rarely sleep past 6 a.m. If my schedule allows, I try to start my day with a run or yoga, followed by coffee. By the time I check email and read the headlines, the rest of my family is up and vying for my attention.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Raising three daughters. They are still a work in progress, and so am I.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

When my parents moved out of their house this summer, I grabbed our family picnic basket. It reminds me of camping trips, arguments with my brother and sister and being in the woods. Exciting things happened when that picnic basket was around.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

Bad, chewy candy. Laffy Taffy, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers. If it is hard and stale, that's even better.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I just finished "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Larson. I am about to start "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green. (My 13-year-old daughter recommended it.) Identifying a favorite book is hard, but if I had to choose one, it would be "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving. If you ask me tomorrow, you would likely get a different answer.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I am a horrible traveler. When I go somewhere, I'm usually dying to get home.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

My favorite pet was my daughter Ellie's cat. I brought him home as a surprise for her fifth birthday, and she named him Tutter, after a mouse from the TV show "Bear and the Big Blue House." He was a gentle giant who dominated our household. He died suddenly last fall, and it is still hard to talk about him.

What's your favorite sports team?

Unfortunately, I swear a lot when I watch sports, so I try to avoid them.

What would you order for your last meal?

Fresh tomatoes from my garden and popcorn. Although I love to cook, these are my two favorite foods.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

A man. Just to get a different perspective.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

My musical tastes change with my mood. I still love the music I listened to in high school and college: R.E.M, English Beat, The Police, Lou Reed, Prince, The Romantics, The Kinks, The Ramones. My daughters recently turned me on to The Killers. My running playlist runs the gamut from Rosemary Clooney to Pharrell Williams to Foo Fighters.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I have an abundance of happy memories. Sad ones too. If I give more weight to one, I feel like it diminishes the others. Most of my favorite moments involved routine activities with my children, like making pancakes on stay-home days or snuggling in bed reading chapter books aloud.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

I'd invite Kent Conrad, Bruce Rainey and David Inge. We'd dine in a radio studio with a grand piano and a harpsichord in one corner. Kent would perform cabaret renditions of '70s sitcom themes, Bruce would regale us with stories from his childhood and David would conduct interviews with all the guests. I'd serve finger food, so everyone could talk and eat and laugh. And the entire dinner party would be recorded and archived, so I could enjoy it again and again.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I'm skipping this one because I don't really admire any historical figures. Maybe Gandhi, but I was heavily influenced by Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Gandhi, so I might be responding to Ben Kingsley and not Gandhi.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I admire honest, straightforward people. Like Holden Caulfield, I can't stand phonies. I wish I could be more forgiving. I am very good at holding a grudge.

What's your best piece of advice?

Don't let perfect get in the way of very good.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I was a cashier at a roadside vegetable stand, and I made $2.30 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

Applying to the position of executive director of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation was a pivotal moment for me. I'd been educational outreach director at WILL for 11 years, and I loved my work at the station. When the foundation offered me the executive director position, I struggled with the thought of leaving colleagues and friends. Then I realized I could bring those relationships with me. Taking the new position didn't mean letting go; it meant adding on.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

I try to learn from my mistakes and focus on what's ahead. That doesn't leave much time for regret.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

It depends. Stress can make me more productive and focused, but once I've reached my stress threshold, I become disorganized and grumpy. I manage stress by running. If that doesn't work, I deadhead the flowers in my garden. If that still doesn't work, I bake a hundred pies.

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