Miss Criss: The Heart of John Marshall

When students leave The John Marshall Law School, they remember a favorite professor, a heart-stopping exam, good times with their study group, teammates in a competition.

And, the indelible mark of love is given to students by Miss Marilyn J. Criss. They carry her endearment with them for years. She is a special person who brings a kind spirit to the law school through her warmth, compassion and genuine love for all associated with the law school.

What goes on in the classroom is important, but just as important is for students to know they have someone to turn to when they have a problem. Miss Criss, the administrative assistant in Student Affairs, is their shoulder to cry on, the knowledgeable mother who can give advice, and the great confidant. She doesn’t judge. In her eyes, everyone is equal and all deserve respect.

“It behooves everyone (at the law school) to realize our students are our alumni in residence,” she says.

“It’s surprising how many students attending law school have significant outside responsibilities in their lives—small children, ailing parents, full-time jobs—and these outside duties lead to an enormous amount of stress. I was one of those students years ago with a day job, three small children and a dying father,” recalls Susann “Sunny” MacLachlan (JD ’94).

“Having the motherly affection of Miss Criss, and being able to talk to her in the always calm oasis that is her office, made some of those more difficult days less burdensome. She absolutely is the heart of John Marshall.”

“We, at The John Marshall Law School, believe this is a special place with a legacy and spirit that welcomes students from all walks of life. Along the way, there have been those whose actions made an impact on students. Miss Criss ranks among the special few,” said Bill Beach, chief development officer. “That is why we are organizing the Heart of John Marshall Scholarship in the name of Miss Criss.”

This gracious lady who has given 35 years to John Marshall says she is “deeply touched. I’ve been fiercely proud of the law school and all its accomplishments. I would never have stayed if I didn’t think it was a special place.”

Born and raised in a small town in southern Indiana, she still maintains a slight drawl when she utters “honey” or “sweetheart,” two of her favorite terms of endearment, and sure signs that her heart is open to you. Her second-floor office is decorated to look like a sitting room. Shelves are lined with graduates’ photos, the walls are covered with draperies and lovely artwork, the chairs have been upholstered to match the color scheme and the industrial strength carpet is covered with decorative area rugs. On her credenza is a glass butterfly, one of many in her collection. She knows the atmosphere helps put students at ease.

“I just think it’s the way I was raised. I came from a remarkable family. My parents believed that we all deserve support and love and that’s what I try and give my students,” she said.

She sets high standards for herself and leads by example with her fine manners and impeccable fashion sense.  She expects the same of students reminding them that “the impression they leave is very important.”

Over the years, she’s led sessions to teach students table manners, bringing china and silverware from her collection to set a correct table. “I’d hate to think someone lost a job because they couldn’t make it through a luncheon interview,” she says.

“Miss Criss had an incredible impact on me in law school whether it was from adding finish and polish to my etiquette or providing advice on how to conduct my affairs while in school and in the profession,” Michael Abramson (JD ’07) said.

“When I served as Student Bar Association (SBA) president, I always looked forward to her morning call to discuss the plans and the goings on of the day which she closely monitored and corralled.  I couldn’t imagine my time at John Marshall without Miss Criss—she was always a source of counsel and encouragement.”

The law school has grown from the days when she started on the switchboard and was one of just a handful of staff members. She moved in to Student Affairs working with Assistant Dean Ronald W. Olson helping establish the office. She’s worked in that department for more than 20 years supporting the more than 40 student organizations and their activities.

“Miss Criss’ compassion, sensitivity, generosity and loyalty are unparalleled to any faculty or staff member at John Marshall,” says Jennifer Irmen (JD ’04) a past SBA president who worked closely with her.

The strong relationship Miss Criss has with students is why even those who have been practicing for years continue to visit her. She’s been a guest at numerous weddings, is delighted when they call about their promotions, and excited to learn about the birth of their babies.

“Anytime Miss Criss calls me to help a student, I immediately call her back and try to do for that student what Miss Criss did for me while I was a student,” Irmen added.

Your gift to The Heart of John Marshall Scholarship will have an immediate benefit for students. This non-endowed, or annual expendable scholarship, allows for the distribution of the money in full, unlike other law school awards and scholarships that are made available by the allocation of law school general funds, as well as the generosity of donors by means of endowed funds.

For more information on making a gift to honor Miss Criss, please contact Lauren Prihoda, at 312.427.2737, ext. 871. Or, if you wish to make an online gift, please go to www.jmls.edu/give. Go to the designation drop down menu to “Heart of JM-Honoring Miss Criss.”

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