Office Careers Instructor Charlotte Kodner choreographs success
Elite executive assistants are major players. They are the gatekeepers and consiglieres of their organizations. As the right-hand professionals assigned to CEOs, presidents, board chairs and other senior administrators, EAs are master problem solvers and troubleshooters. Coolheaded in the hottest pressure cooker, they prioritize goals and adapt to relentless change the way ordinary mortals breathe oxygen. They are voracious learners, embracing onrushing technology and maddening challenges as a matter of course.
Every greenhorn personal and administrative assistant aspires to be as competent and multifaceted as the tried-and-true executive assistant. Charlotte Kodner, an Office Careers instructor at Dakota County Technical College, achieved that proficiency early in her career, but she didn’t stand still. Instead, she took multifaceted to the next level, branching out into dance, acting, choreography, directing, mentoring and teaching?the last facet her first calling.
Born in Harvey, Ill., a former Temperance Town just south of Chicago, Kodner grew up in Prescott, Wis., a picturesque community founded at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. She graduated in a class of 76 students from Prescott High School, her career path already set in her mind.
“I wanted to be a teacher,” Kodner said. “I always wanted to be a teacher.”
She did her undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Comprehensive Business Education with an emphasis on Business Supervision, a degree that gave her the option to either teach or forge out into the business world.
“I moved to Indianapolis after graduating and worked as an executive assistant for DeRose Industries, a private firm that built mobile homes and travel trailers,” she said. “I had three bosses?the directors of engineering, personnel and purchasing. I also supported the work of five full-time engineers. It was an amazing experience.”
She found her teaching foothold at Lockyear Business College, a private two-year in Indianapolis. She taught keyboarding, shorthand and business English while also delivering customized training in business management to cohorts of employees at DuPont, one of the largest chemical companies in the world.
In addition to three appearances onstage at the Guthrie Theater, House of Bernarda Alba, directed by Tim McCusker, and The Screens and Leon & Lena (and Lenz), both directed by Joanne Akalaitis, Kodner has broken into film (you can find her on IMDB), with appearances as a cast extra in:
- Thin Ice (formerly The Convincer) | Casino patron | directed by Jill Sprecher
- A Serious Man | Restaurant patron | directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
- A Prairie Home Companion | Audience member | directed by Robert Altman
- Carousel of Revenge (aka Arnold’s Park) | Nightclub guest | directed by Gene Teigland
- The Last Word | Congregation member | directed by Tim McCusker
- Bloodshed Love | Speakeasy patron | directed by Mason Makram
In 1978, Kodner went north to Minnesota after accepting a faculty position in the Office Careers department at the Dakota County Area Vocational-Technical Institute, known since 1989 as Dakota County Technical College.
“I had the right pieces they needed,” said Kodner, who found a lasting home at DCTC. “I had the industry experience as well as the education.”
As her journey into teaching unfolded, Kodner never stopped growing professionally. Like so many fields, Office Careers is defined by advancing technology. For instance, shorthand has lapsed into a bygone skill, replaced by transcription and speech-recognition software.
“Shorthand was a wonderful, wonderful tool and I loved it,” Kodner said. “I know probably five different theories of shorthand and eventually I mixed them all together?making my shorthand understandable to no one except me. But new technology is one of the reasons I still teach. I enjoy change. I enjoy the challenge.”
Even as Kodner found her passion as a college-level instructor, she also found her joy in dance and theater?and later on the silver screen. She discovered the stage in high school, performing as “Gabrielle” in The Madwoman of Chaillot, a play by Jean Giraudoux, the French satirist. With her childhood friend, Deb Tegler, she also took dance classes in tap, jazz and ballet.
In Indianapolis, she resumed her dance studies and soon advanced to take dance instructor training at Dixon Dance Studios. In no time, she was teaching tap, jazz and ballet to preschoolers, senior citizens and everyone in between.
Kodner went on to manage two Dixon studios, orchestrating student recitals and performances. With her friend and fellow dance instructor, Karen Bickley, she ventured to Butler University in Indianapolis and took lessons from legendary dance professor, Michelle Jarvis.
“We were teaching dance and wanted to grow in our profession,” Kodner said. “At Butler, we performed live to Liza Minnelli’s ‘Bye, Bye, Blackbird’ and also danced to the theme from Rocky during a telethon to raise money for the Indiana Pacers.”
Kodner was working at DCTC when she got into acting. Again her childhood friend, Deb Tegler, was the catalyst, prompting her to call Jim Zimmerman, the gentleman directing Anything Goes, the Cole Porter musical, at the St. Croix Valley Summer Theatre.
“They needed tap dancers,” Kodner recalled. “Jim put me in the chorus and I started learning the numbers. Within a week, I became an assistant choreographer. We were opening on a Friday and on Wednesday I came to rehearsal and Jim said he needed to talk to me. I asked, ‘Is something wrong?’ He told me his choreographer had eloped to Europe. She also happened to be playing ‘Chastity,’ one of Reno Sweeney’s angels in the musical. Jim asked me to take on the role.”
“Virtually every field of endeavor requires administrative support?from education to technology to management to health care to heavy industry to transportation to communications to finance to social services to science. Once you’re in the door, the only limits on your progress are defined by your willingness to work hard and never stop learning.” — Charlotte Kodner
In the classic stage tradition, Kodner made sure the show went on. She had to learn a solo piece on extremely short notice, the one piece she hadn’t worked on with the absentee choreographer. She pulled if off without a hitch. One of the lead actors in the musical was singularly impressed by Kodner’s performance, saying, “Look up quick study in the dictionary and you’ll find Charlotte.”
Kodner stayed with the St. Croix as a choreographer and performer for 10 years, working on several productions, including A Chorus Line, The Wizard of Oz, Godspell, Little Shop of Horrors and South Pacific.
“Char and I worked together from the mid 1980s through the 90s,” said Zimmerman, a professor in Communication Studies and Theatre Arts at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the director at the St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre. “She was more than a choreographer. She also performed lead and secondary roles in a variety of shows?and, to be honest, I don’t know what I would have done as the director without her. She holds a very special place in my heart as often happens with folks you’ve come to rely on doing theater. She is creative, personable and, best of all, she made me laugh and made the job fun.”
Zimmerman reported that he has directed well over 100 shows (he stopped counting at 100 several years ago), the majority musicals, but the longest standing ovation he ever witnessed for one of his shows or “ANY show” he ever attended happened after the St. Croix Valley Summer Theatre 1985 production of Anything Goes. “This was due primarily to Char’s choreography and performance in the show,” he said. “Simply amazing.”
In August 2011, Charlotte Kodner stepped into another role, this time serving as a van driver for journalists during Pres. Barack Obama’s visit to Minnesota. Kodner drove in the president’s motorcade throughout the three-day bus tour, which included a speech at Lower Hannah’s Bend Park in Cannon Falls, Minn. “Driving in the motorcade was a very exciting experience,” Kodner said.
After the St. Croix, Kodner served as a choreographer, director and performer at The Phipps Center for the Arts, a member-supported nonprofit offering concerts, theater productions, classes and visual arts at a $7 million facility in Hudson, Wis. Her credits at The Phipps include Imagine That, Narnia, two productions of Aladdin, The Sound of Music and The Marvelous Land of Oz.
“I helped bring the first dance performance to The Phipps,” she noted with pride. “In DancEmotion, we incorporated a program that showcased various dance styles throughout the production. I served as director, narrator and performer, and also choreographed the tap number. In one number, we merged the disciplines of tap, ballet and jazz. We had three ballerinas come on and dance, then three tappers, then three jazz dancers?and then we all came back on stage and danced together. It was a very impressive piece and wowed the audience.”
John Potter serves as executive director of The Phipps and has known Kodner professionally for a number of years. “Charlotte is a delightful actor and a clever choreographer,” he said. “Her most recent appearance as ‘Lucille’ in The Cemetery Club was very funny as well as poignant. We look forward to her return.”
She helped form the Rosemount Area Arts Council, serving as vice chair for three years. The RAAC sponsors art-related events, including photography contests, the most recent featuring DCTC photography instructor, Darrell Tangen, who was a guest speaker and judge. She performs regularly in Mr. Mystery Productions, appearing in whodunit plays at organizational banquets, outings and events with the cast of actors portraying various characters in scenes sprinkled with clues, encouraging audience members to become detectives and solve the crime in question.
Throughout her career in the footlights and on film, Kodner has made teaching the linchpin of her happiness. In all her pursuits, she choreographs the form and motion of success, not for herself alone, but above all for the people around her. Andrea Kodner-Wenzel is a prime example—she just happens to be Kodner’s sister-in-law, but she is also a former student.
“In many ways Charlotte’s more like a sister,” Kodner-Wenzel said. “When I decided to go back to school, I reached out to Charlotte for guidance. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do besides supplement my income and stabilize my finances. I knew that Charlotte had worked at DCTC for a long time?and she provided me with information about the programs. I decided to enroll in Office Careers because the coursework was a good foundation for a variety of careers.”
“Charlotte is a teacher who inspires.” — Anna Voight, 2009 graduate of Executive and Administrative Assistant program
In fact, Kodner is the first person to point out that earning a degree or diploma in the Executive and Administrative Assistant program gives graduates the skills, both hard and soft, to find meaningful and promising careers in ANY business or industry.
“Virtually every field of endeavor requires administrative support?from education to technology to management to health care to heavy industry to transportation to communications to finance to social services to science,” Kodner said. “Once you’re in the door, the only limits on your progress are defined by your willingness to work hard and never stop learning.”
Thanks to her degree, Andrea Kodner-Wenzel went on to find rewarding work in higher education. In the fall of 2010, she accepted the position of chief information officer at Normandale Community College, a job that turned into one of most challenging and rewarding experiences of her career.
In April 2010, the Minnesota State College Student Association named Charlotte Kodner Instructor of the Year. The MSCSA is composed of Minnesota two-year college students dedicated to student success through advocacy, education and leadership development. Anna Voight, a 2009 graduate of the Executive and Administrative Assistant program, nominated Kodner for the award. In her nomination letter, Voight included the following quote from William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
“Charlotte is a teacher who inspires,” concluded Voight, who credits many of her academic accomplishments and extensive co-curricular involvement on campus to Kodner’s sage counsel.
“I view my role as an educator as one where I have an opportunity to help individuals discover their talents,” Charlotte Kodner said. “I help them overcome what some feel are their limitations—and many of those are self-imposed?and guide them to achieve their potential and celebrate their successes.”
For more information about the Executive and Administrative Assistant program, contact:
- Charlotte Kodner
Office Careers Instructor
- Susan Johanson
Office Careers Instructor