Lou Jean Fleron has been named a “Woman of Distinction” by the New York State Senate for being “a positive agent for change.”
“A tireless advocate for worker’s rights, Lou Jean’s dedication to serving others has had a profound impact on shaping Western New York for more than 35 years,” said state Sen., Mark Panepinto, D-Buffalo.
“Her research and hands-on approach continues to be a positive agent for change in this community, and I’m proud to be able to honor her for that.”
Fleron, who has held many ILR School positions since 1977, said, “I was taught by my mother … [that] you live in the world and you need to help make it better. Active citizenship was an assumption that I had from the very beginning.”
“I’m a third-generation educator. I don’t really make a big distinction between professional life and life in the world,” Fleron said.
The Kansas native is currently director of ILR’s High Road Fellowship program and co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think-tank of nearly 200 Buffalo area organizations.
Fleron’s passion for Buffalo was immediate when she moved there in 1970.
“I just fell in love with the place. It’s very different than where I grew up, and I found it fascinating and beautiful ... It’s just a great city,” she said.
Sally Klingel, director of Labor-Management Programs for ILR’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, credits Fleron and her ILR Extension colleagues in Buffalo with helping to spur economic development and with furthering social justice.
“The workplace has changed dramatically. The labor movement has changed dramatically. The industries in Buffalo have changed dramatically. … She continuously thinks forward.”
Fleron made the ILR Extension office in Buffalo “a hub for groups of all kinds: corporations, small businesses, unions, community groups, etcetera. That’s the place that they come to talk about how they are going to do the best possible job for the Buffalo region,” Klingel said.
Fleron, she said, “has a direct connection to the women who built ILR’s Buffalo office. She is in that lineage of folks that started with Lois Gray in 1946. I think she represents the best of the pioneering spirits in that office in Buffalo.”
Fleron served as ILR’s statewide director of workforce, industry and economic development and founded the school’s Institute for Industry. The programs provided applied research and education to employers, unions, and policymakers in industries from auto and metals to telecommunications and the arts.
In a matter of days, Fleron will welcome ILR students to the High Road Fellowship program she began in 2009. High Road then matches Cornell student skills with economic revitalization efforts in Western New York.
“That’s what ILR Extension is. It uses education and involvement in the economy to solve current problems,” said Fleron, the first chair of Buffalo’s Living Wage Commission.
“It is important to apply theoretical knowledge to the real life problems, and Cornell is a very sophisticated university with extraordinary scholars. But, it’s also a place where people look at real life problems and try to make a difference.”
Fleron credits ILR colleagues with helping her connect Cornell expertise to Buffalo-area issues.
“Through my work at Cornell, I have had a tremendous opportunity to work with creative, dedicated people. … Anything that I have been able to do, I would want to emphasize that it’s because of all of the people that I get to work with.”