Kent State Alumna Found Her Passion Promoting Downtown Kent

Ten years ago, the New York Times featured Kent City Manager Dave Ruller and Kent State University’s then-President Lester A. Lefton in an article touting their college town-gown success. Kent State Today is following up on that article, looking at the different ways the town-gown relationship is still flourishing. Read more about the background of the relationship here

As a Kent State University student in the early 1990s, Heather Rohwedder Malarcik '96 could never have imagined that she would one day find her dream job in downtown Kent, Ohio. 

Back then she was having trouble just picking a major. 

“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she recalled. 

Now Malarcik is the director of Main Street Kent and spends her days working to keep downtown Kent a thriving part of the greater Kent community. 

“I love the work that I do and the people that I work with and the positive impact we have on a daily basis,” she said. 

In her role, Malarcik plans events to keep downtown vibrant and fun, including the Chocolate Walk in February, the Art and Wine Festival in June and the Oktoberfest in September. Her work is focused on driving traffic to and enhancing downtown, which in turn helps the city and the business community succeed. 

Main Street Kent sponsors many downtown Kent events that are a draw for students.

Malarcik takes her role as downtown curator seriously and is not above donning gloves and grabbing a trash bag if she spots some debris as she makes her rounds. 

With just one other employee at Main Street Kent, Malarcik works in conjunction with a volunteer board and oversees teams of supporting volunteers to make the nonprofit organization’s events come to life. 

One of Main Street Kent’s more recent projects was the installation of a “Kent” sign at the intersection of North Water Street and Fairchild Avenue. The sign was fabricated by Sean Mercer, with artwork by Taryn McMahon, associate professor at Kent State’s School of Art, and installed in 2021 to help add some emphasis to one of the entries into downtown, close to North Water Brewing Co. and Scribbles Coffee. 

This Kent sign on North Water Street was a project of Main Street Kent.

Malarcik, who grew up in Hudson, Ohio, selected Kent State in 1990 because it was close to home, but admits she struggled with finding her niche. She was in her junior year when her advisor gave her a not-so-subtle nudge to pick a major. 

It was her creative writing instructor, Ted Lyons, who suggested that her writing skills might find a home in the School of Journalism (now the School of Media and Journalism), where she discovered advertising and copywriting.  

That’s when everything seemed to fall into place. “After picking that major, I was doing what I was interested in and I was excited,” she said. Malarcik took plenty of classes in advertising and marketing and found a job in marketing after graduating in 1996. 

She worked for a variety of companies over the years and lived in California for a time, but after starting her family felt the pull to return to Ohio. 

When Main Street Kent was hiring a marketing assistant in 2011, she applied and was hired. Within the year, the director had moved on and she was promoted to the director’s job, a role she has held for 11 years. 

Joshua Rider is executive director of Kent State's Center for Adult and Veteran Services.

Joshua Rider, ’99, M.Ed. ’05, executive director of Kent State’s Center for Adult and Veteran Services, serves as vice president of Main Street Kent’s executive board and has worked closely with Malarcik for several years. 

“Heather is one of the hardest-working people I know. The work that she does, from the outside, looking in, might look like it’s all fun, planning programs, parties, and festivals, but there is an incredible amount of logistics that goes into all those events,” he said. 

Rider praised Malarcik’s leadership with the organization. “She always keeps the city in mind. She is always asking, `What will the impact of this be on Kent?’ Her leadership with Main Street Kent also has helped build connections to Kent State University,” he said. 

Rider credits Malarcik with helping the city of Kent get through the COVID-19 pandemic, by creating the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area or DORA, which permits visitors to buy alcoholic beverages for outdoor consumption seven days a week from noon to 11 p.m. in designated areas. As an enhancement to DORA during the warmer months,  the city closed Franklin Avenue to traffic and created outdoor seating areas downtown to allow restaurants and bars to maintain their business operations by giving customers a way to safely enjoy food and beverages. 

“She is an incredibly hard-working professional who doesn’t get all the credit for what she does,” Rider said. “She is an integral part of the Kent community.” 

Likewise, Malarcik said Kent State folks are always willing to get involved to help make downtown events successful with volunteer hours. Malarcik understands that having a thriving downtown is important for the university, too. 

Main Street Kent welcomes new students to downtown.

“It’s super important to me because I went to Kent State when downtown wasn’t what it is today. There was not much to do other than get a pizza and a beer,” she said. “Now there’s public art, live music, events and activities.” 

“I think it’s great to have a town that offers all those things, hand in hand, with a great university. From a parent’s perspective, too. They want to know `What else are they going to do other than go to a frat party?’ Yes, there’s lots of things to do.” 

As for Lyons, Malarcik said she still sees him from time to time at the bank or at a downtown restaurant. “That’s pretty special,” she said.  

At 50, Malarcik is confident she has found the perfect job for her.  

“I don’t think there is anything else I would rather be doing. I want to work for my community,” Malarcik said, “There’s nowhere else I would want to live and work.” 


POSTED: Wednesday, March 1, 2023 11:17 AM
Updated: Monday, April 10, 2023 10:40 PM
Lisa Abraham