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City manager finds calling during undergraduate course

Lori Curtis Luther, ’95, recalls a Baldwin City city council meeting she attended as part of a course she was taking as an undergraduate at Baker University. Even back then, she realized her reaction to attending the typically dry meetings was rather unique.

“While everyone around me was nodding off, I was riveted,” Curtis Luther said.

This was where she discovered her calling. And, today, she’s making the most of it. As of August 22, Curtis Luther is the new city manager for Overland Park, Kansas, recently named by a major publication as the fifth-best city in which to live in the United States.

“I’m looking forward to working with the mayor and city council,” she said. “Overland Park is such a wonderful city. Maintaining the city’s momentum is a primary objective.”

Curtis Luther’s momentum as a civic servant and leader has been on fast-forward since graduating from Baker and leaving Baldwin City in the mid-90s. After graduating with a double major in political science and Spanish, she earned a master’s in public administration, with honors, at Kansas University in1997.

Sowing the Seeds for Leadership

She said her years at Baker, where she also played soccer, were formative and fruitful in leading her into a life of public service and administration.

“My first internship as a graduate was in Baldwin City as an intern and billing clerk for the city manager,” Curtis Luther said. “That’s where I got my first exposure to municipal government.”

She especially credits Martha Harris, ’79, an accounting professor at Baker, as being a critical person and influence in her young life.

“Baker and Baldwin City absolutely were fundamental to my career,” she said.

That career has led her to several city and county positions throughout the Midwest, most recently Beloit, Wisconsin, a city of 40,000, where she was named city manager in 2015. One of her positions before that was in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, which is where she met her husband, a high school science teacher. They have four children, ranging in age from nine to 22.

Curtis Luther was assistant city manager for Overland Park from 2000 to 2005. As city manager, she’ll be responsible for the day-to-day operations in city government, from the city’s police force to fire department to public works. She’ll also be in charge of developing and managing the budget for this city of nearly 200,000. She’ll oversee 1,300 city employees, comparable to when she was county administrator in Peoria County, Illinois, which had a staff of 1,200.

Returning Home

A native of Olathe, Kansas, who attended Olathe North High School, Curtis Luther says she has been longing to return closer to home and her family.

“It was my ultimate aspiration to return to Overland Park,” she said. “A dream come true. I’m incredibly excited to return home to family and where I was raised. And I’ll be working with some individuals who I worked with earlier in my career.”

Moving back to the area, she says, also brings back thoughts of her college alma mater and the impact Baker had in shaping her professional life.

“Baker was essential in my preparation for what I’m doing now,” she said. “I attended that first city council meeting as part of a course, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The professors at Baker helped me make the connections at KU where I took the courses to learn city management. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

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