The Women’s Issue
Mary Jane Nirdlinger
Executive Director, Office of Planning & Sustainability for the Town of Chapel Hill
“One of my favorite non-career jobs was working in a small bakery in the town in Ohio where my family lived. It was hard work (and hot in the summer), but I loved the camaraderie and feeling like we mattered in a tangible way to the people who walked in the doors every day. I knew the regulars by name, just as I do in the job I have now. Each day is different – that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I feel very lucky to work for the Town of Chapel Hill because what I do matters every day to my family, friends and neighbors. Towns are living, breathing creatures; they’re complicated and sometimes unpredictable. I love having a role in trying to understand who we are and where we’re going. I love bringing together people from the community – all with different backgrounds, experiences and opinions – to make Chapel Hill a better place. That’s a humbling job. And it’s fascinating, every single day. My job makes me feel rooted in the community. I see people I know every time I go to the grocery store, out to dinner or to the movies at The Chelsea.
Born on the Bethesda Naval Base in Maryland, Mary Jane’s first job after graduate school at the University of Michigan was working as a planner for Mercer County, N.J. She’s planned facilities for the U.S. Coast Guard, and then came to the area 11 years ago as a campus planner for UNC. For the Town of Chapel Hill, she worked in several roles – mostly in planning and project management – before landing her current position. Her family – including husband Neil Caudle and kids Jack Felgenhauer (a freshman at East Chapel Hill High) and Talia Felgenhauer (a seventh-grader at Phillips Middle School) – calls Argonne Hills home. Her parents Mary Ann and Edwin Nirdlinger live nearby in the Cedar Falls neighborhood. When she’s not biking or doing yoga with her husband, you might find her painting, sewing, cooking or building to satisfy her creative urge.
For fun, I love to write. In fact, I just signed with a literary agent for my first novel for middle-grade readers. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I love the freedom to be anyone, say anything, do anything, that comes with inventing stories. My favorite time to write is early in the morning, before the problem-solving part of my brain has a chance to wake up and focus on the nittygritty of work and family logistics. [I feel most at home at] Flyleaf Books. I’ve joked that I should probably just have a portion of my salary sent directly to them. Really though, I love that bookstore. It’s a gem. The people who work there are the best, they have amazing events, and it’s halfway between home and work and close to coffee, food and shopping. What could be better?” – JS May/June 2016 chapelhillmagazine.com