Aug. 23 2014 12:00 AM

OTCA director leaves to pursue med school

Louise Gradwohl

THURSDAY, Aug. 21 – The key is to keep learning.

That’s what Louise Gradwohl says is the predominant mindset that has led her in life so far from ballet dancer to communications intern to director of Lansing’s most vibrant and growing neighborhoods, the Old Town Commercial Association.

And now she’s headed for a lot more learning as she pursues a career in medicine

Gradwohl resigned as director of OTCA in order to go to Michigan State University this fall for pre-med courses and then she’d like to go to medical school.

She is approaching this change much like when she started in Old Town, which she described as a “big leap of faith.”

“Sometimes you just need to follow that crazy,” the 26-year-old said.

Gradwohl joined OTCA as a communications intern in May 2011.

“By the end of October I was the communication coordinator,” she said. “I was hired as director in December. I was 23.”

She said it was intimidating to take over something so large and promising as OTCA, the growing hip business district on the city’s north end. The organization does everything from recruit new businesses to organize and run major annual events like Oktoberfest, ScrapFest, Festival of the Moon and Sun.

“It showed me it’s important to dig deep and don’t let fear get in the way,” she said. “Own you.”

Karen Stefl, OTCA board president, said a new director will be announced by next week.

She said Gradwohl’s departure “certainly caught us by surprise” but is one the organization supports.

“Her desire to be a physician makes perfect sense, as the skills she has as a community organizer will serve her well,” she said. “She is poised, an excellent communicator, is decisive on her feet and is dedicated to her community.”

“Louise’s growth as a professional during her time with us has been a joy to watch,” Stefl added. “She not only worked tirelessly to uphold our mission, but increased our visibility and fund development.”

Gradwohl, an East Lansing native, has learned to go with the flow in whatever direction it’s moving.

When she was 19, she was diagnosed with a dance career changing disorder, May-Thurner syndrome. The condition compresses of arteries in the lower extremities, causing pain and swelling.

“I’ve got an 80 percent blockage still today,” she said. “It's unfortunate to have a blood clot at 19 and be on blood thinners for the rest of your life.”

She said the rare disease isn’t genetic.

She said her hematologist told her, “You're tall, things just cross differently.”

But the pressure of dancing was too much on her legs.

“It was like everything got ripped out from me.”

Gradwohl said she had to teach herself a new way of living.

She said her doctors told her, “You're going to know so much by the end of this you should be doctor.”

And that’s what she’s decided to do.

“I’ve got to run with it and I’ve gotta let it fly”

She said the lessons of Old Town will be with her every step of the way.

“I learned how important networks are in Lansing,” she said. “Everyone is so connected.

I learned how much energy there is in this community.”

Being director of OTCA, “definitely made me who I am.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported some of the festivals the OTCA coordinates.