A Final Word with Linda Iroff

How Oberlin’s former director of the Tech Department splits her time between “Middle Earth” and the Midwest

By Moira Peterson | mpeterson@oberlin.edu | March 9, 2018 @ 6:31 pm

Former Oberlin Tech Store employee Linda Iroff pictured with Sean Astin.

Photo provided.

It began at a hotel. She ordered a hot cocoa, and though hesitant, decided to indulge herself by adding a dollop of whipped cream into her cup. As she took her first sip, I asked my first question — “Was the college’s decision to remove the tech store completely ‘out of left field’?”– a question that has been unanswered since Oberlin College decided to close its only tech store indefinitely after 30 years of service. This decision went unannounced until long term employees like Linda Iroff were told their jobs were being terminated. I sat down with hot-cocoa-drinking Linda, who worked as the “Director of Desktop Resources” for 15 of her 28 years at Oberlin College.

Linda’s road to Oberlin was unconventional, to say the least. A former student of Chemistry at UVA, she later moved on to continue studying the science at Princeton University, where she was part of the first class of women at the historically single-sex institution. Linda then traded in her lab coat to enter what was, at the time, an up-and-coming industry: technology. After making this vocational switch, she was placed at the IT department of Cornell, but moved to Oberlin after her former husband was relocated. She now proudly owns a home with one acre of land, though one could argue that the tech store was her true home.

The tech store was a unique place of business because it was a source of student employment, with some students working there through the summer months as they prepared for the notorious “back to school day” blow up. The store not only considered itself at the forefront of groundbreaking technology since the beginning, but it was also a unique establishment because few liberal arts schools have a private tech store. What started as a tiny office only open for sporadic hours through the week turned into a technology advice hub that saw net gain profits and steady inclines in sales that benefited the institution. Linda even mentioned that the store served over 1500 students and faculty, assisting them with purchases that weren’t using the “hard sell” sales technique that you might find in competing technology stores. In addition to serving as an accessible retail outlet for purchasing Apple products, the store also served the college as the purchaser of all college tech, such as the desktops on the first floor of Mudd. As such, it came as a shock to Linda that the college would make the decision to close their doors.

“To get called into your boss’ office and have him say, ‘So we’re closing the store and your position is ending,’ was kind of a shock.” And yet, Linda felt that it wasn’t completely out “of left field,” given the situation with the college’s financial state being in the economic red zone. However, Linda stated that she “disagrees about how essential the need for the services the store provided in the related services I provided outside of the store are… The idea [is] that cutting this service is going to save the college money, [and] I don’t necessarily think that is going to be true.” Furthermore, she believes that while this decision does affect her on a personal level, eventually it will affect the institution as a whole, adding that “it definitely decreases accessibility to students.” When I asked for further elaboration on what this meant, Linda explained to me that “students can put things on Financial Aid, put things on their term bill and not have to pay it off to the end of the semester…those options are and will no longer available anymore.” With the rising rate of tuition, one could argue that this will prove to be a complication to current and incoming students.

When I asked Linda what the best thing about working in the store was, she responded: “It really was working with the students. The students here are just awesome. They’re amazing and it helps keep me young, to know what’s going on in the world rather than just remaining an old ‘fuddy duddy.’And yet when I hire students as first years and I get to watch them grow… It’s just the best job you can have in the entire world to be able to do that.”

One of the students who Linda took under her wing was senior Callie Harlow, who began working at the tech store in the fall of her freshman year. Harlow expressed that it was a comforting environment, and that she will miss working in the tech store with Linda. “Linda specifically was really good to me, and a wonderful first boss and was always there for me and to give me advice, and I’m thankful to have worked for her.”

Linda admits that she is normally introverted, but when it comes to technology she can’t help but talk. “Most of my best friends are friends I made online. It’s helped me be more open to people.” Linda has always felt more comfortable being social online, but she felt a similar comfort at her position at the tech store, which one could argue was the marriage of her interests: giving advice, staying at the foreground of groundbreaking technological trends and helping others.

So what is next for Linda? Linda found out about her position being terminated the week before Thanksgiving, but I found that the tech store, while her life’s work, was not her only passion. On one of these online platforms, Linda found a blog devoted to discussions about her favorite author, J.R. Tolkien, on a site called “Live Journal.” Linda had been a fan of his series, The Lord of the Rings, since she was in college and was happy to find that there was a community of aficionados out there just like her. It was here that she engaged in lively conversations with fellow Lord of the Rings fans, and more specifically on the portrayal of one Samwise by actor Sean Astin. For those of us who are not familiar with the Tolkien series, he played Frodo’s trusted companion Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s famous trilogy, and most recently can be found playing the character “Bob” on Stranger Things. Linda found herself mesmerized with his portrayal of the character, so much that she pioneered and created the first Facebook fan page and personal blog devoted to discussing Astin’s performances both inside and outside of the “Mines of Moria.”

As Linda discovered this passion, Astin discovered her. They made contact in 2011, when Linda proposed that she interview him about running the L.A. marathon, which she later published on her blog. It was with that post that their professional relationship and friendship was born. Astin would later invite Linda to be his guest at a Comic Con in Louisville Kentucky, and he would recruit her to manage his various social media accounts, which she still manages to find time to do today. Linda recounted this experience with a sort of childlike glee, and remembered admiring how attentive Astin was with his fans. Linda has since accompanied him on recent Comic Con’s promoting his role on the Netflix series, and now holds an “Executive Producer” credit on his recently debuted documentary titled Remember The Sultana, trading her Director of Sales cap for a shot at a different kind of direction. The film was just released on March 1st documenting a tragic ship wreckage whose numbers were higher than the deaths on the Titanic during the Civil War. Iroff assisted with crowdfunding campaigns and promotional media for the film.

While Iroff is one of many employees who feel directly affected by these budget cuts, she’s looking forward to the next chapter and her students are excited for her as well. “I’m really happy for her. I’m really excited for her, because I know how much she loves the community she’s found through going to comic cons and through going to LOTR fan bases and i’m excited to see her go through with that more,” reified Harlow.

It is safe to say that this is not the last time we will be hearing from Linda, and her lasting imprint will be present from the depths of Mudd’s A-Level, throughout our community.

 

EDITORS NOTE: Since the reporter interviewed Linda Iroff, she was notified that her position, though promised to have employment through the remainder of the semester, has officially been terminated as of this past Friday.

Contact contributing writer Moira Peterson at mpeterso@oberlin.edu.

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