1963 Women's Student Government Association group photo

There are Buckeyes, and there are BUCKEYES.

And then there’s Barbie Tootle (BSBA ’65, MA ’68). She may very well be the ultimate Buckeye.

During her 30-year Ohio State professional career, Barbie (pictured above front row, second from right in 1963) shaped the college experience for thousands of students and provided guidance to university leaders.

A lifelong career spanning just three roles at Ohio State, however, wasn’t always her goal.

Barbie Tootle
Barbie (Oliver) Tootle (BSBA '65, MA '68)

“I hadn’t planned on a career in higher education,” says Barbie, who began as an advertising student in 1961. “I really thought I was going to be in the business world. Probably in the advertising business, in a big city market like Chicago.”

She arrived at Ohio State from a Columbus Catholic girls school where she was one of 55 students in her graduating class. There weren’t many women role models for business students, but the standard of excellence for the College of Commerce was there, even 60 years ago.

“I never once felt like I didn’t belong,” says Barbie, who worked at the college as a student and got to know many of the faculty and staff. “The college was friendly and competitive — expectations were high. But to their credit, the business school created a culture where I could succeed.”

Excelling as a student, she was named a Pace Setter her senior year.

The business school wasn’t the only area where Barbie was breaking stereotypes and was forging her own path. Determined to enrich her experience and explore other areas of college life, Barbie joined Pi Beta Phi sorority.

“I was the only person in my chapter who was in the business school. Most of my sisters were in education, nursing, home economics — they were in majors that would blend well with a woman’s career as a family provider,” Barbie recalls.

By the time she graduated, women were beginning to explore different majors with an eye toward working outside of the home. It was a different world and a bygone era. Today’s students wouldn’t recognize many aspects of Ohio State during Barbie’s undergraduate years.

“Back then, there was a Dean of Women and a Dean of Men,” says Barbie. “Undergraduate Student Government was for male students, while the Women’s Self Government Association (WSGA) provided activities and programs that enriched leadership opportunities for women. WSGA advised the Dean of Women’s Office on the many rules covering the behavior of female students, including nightly curfews.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

Thanks to the myriad relationships she’d built as an undergrad and once she became an alumna in 1965, Barbie was asked to continue volunteering at Ohio State. One such opportunity was with her Pi Beta Phi chapter where she served as an advisor to the scholarship and academic programs.

ABOVE: Barbie (front row, second from right) was a member of the Women's Student Government Association in 1963.
Barbie's Pace Setters Award from 1964

Barbie earned a master’s degree in sociology — from the College of Commerce — in 1968 and spent the next five years working with the Disaster Research Center, the first social science research center in the world studying organized response to disasters. The center is now housed at the University of Delaware.

In 1974, a student affairs leader working with Greek life invited Barbie to lunch, told her he was leaving his role as coordinator of Greek affairs and encouraged her to apply for the position, overseeing fraternities and sororities.

“I was the first woman to be the university advisor to both the men’s and women’s groups,” says Barbie. “It was more common to put men in charge of both groups, but that trend was beginning to change all across the country.”  

She spent 11 years in Student Life advising students from 63 Greek organizations. She served in whatever capacity the situation called for: academic advisor, a counselor and a teacher. Sometimes, she was a surrogate parent for those who lived far from home.

“It never felt like work, but I also responded to some very serious situations. There was a terrible fraternity fire in the middle of the night, and some of the discipline cases were difficult,” says Barbie. “You just have to be the type of person that handles bad news with compassion and understanding.”

“I tried to always do what I thought was right. I just loved it, and there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t hear from one of those kids. Honest to goodness, I guess they’re not kids now — they’re all in their 50’s and 60’s — they’re grandparents!”

Those “kids” still call to thank her for helping them or to reminisce about the ways Barbie has influenced them. She’s built life-long relationships with these former students, a testament to her nurturing nature, and their respect for the way she did her job.

A lasting legacy

Barbie capped her career at Ohio State as special assistant to the president, where she served three university presidents — Edward Jennings, E. Gordon Gee and William “Brit” Kirwan — and two interim presidents. In that role, she worked to promote ways the president could connect to students as well as preparing the president for public appearances.

Barbie Tootle enjoys a moment with E. Gordon Gee
Barbie with former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee in 1993

In a salute to her legacy, she has a room in the “new” Ohio Union named after her. The room was a surprise gift from several grateful fraternity and sorority alumni leaders and friends who donated the funds for the naming rights. Appropriately, the room overlooks Hagerty Hall, the former home of the College of Commerce.

The previous Ohio Union, however, will forever hold a special place in Barbie’s heart — her freshman orientation was held there; she would meet her college sweetheart (and eventual husband) Jim Tootle there for lunch, and it’s where the Greek Affairs Office was located.

Across campus, Barbie’s impact is felt in another way. The Barbie Tootle Buckeye Spirit Award is given annually by the Varsity O Alumni Society to individuals who have “demonstrated unconditional loyalty and support of athletics at The Ohio State University.”  She was the first recipient of the award in 2001.

Barbie's retirement in 1999 hasn't stopped her from advocating for students and supporting her beloved alma mater.

Her desire to stay involved with the university and pay forward as much as possible is driven by her personal experience as a student.

“I want to make sure, in any way that I can, that a student who enrolls next year has a fabulous experience and access to even more opportunities than I had,” she says. “I want people to have that joy.”

Today she volunteers on the Distinguished Service Award committee and she is president of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society Alumni Group.

“The university is an extraordinary place and it keeps getting better all the time,” Barbie says.


Say yes!

Students, young professionals and alumni are still asking Barbie for guidance. One piece of advice she repeats frequently: say yes!  She encourages everyone to engage in something — whether it's a club or an activity in their college, she believes everyone should say yes to experiences outside of the classroom.

“The one advantage of coming to Ohio State is everything is here,” she says. “You can put together a college experience that follows your interests or one that takes you in some unexpected directions — you might discover a discipline or field you didn’t even know existed.”

Her second piece of advice? Keep growing.

“You don’t have to change jobs to get the job you want,” says Barbie, who today is a public speaker, writer and communications consultant serving leaders in corporate, higher education and nonprofit organizations. “Make the job you have the job you want by learning new things and accepting new assignments.”

“Take some chances — say yes to something new.”