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Friday, March 30, 2012

Grieving Yolanda

Today, Yolanda Rengel, serving our students with love and care.
When a student emailed me last weekend about the death of ARAMARK worker Yolanda I was shocked. Shock gave way, quickly, to confusion: WHICH Yolanda? I emailed back but never received a response. Nor did I hear from my ARAMARK contact who was out-of-town. You can't grieve someone who has a 50% chance of being alive. You can grieve two people halfway though, which is what I did. I was in the dubious position of pulling for each of the two Yolanda's to be alive. It was a lose-lose situation.

The lovely Yolanda Hernandez passed away after succumbing to ongoing health issues. I enjoyed her a lot. She was always friendly to me. She liked to comment on my blog, what she read in the Trinitonian, and about my running with students. I was sad to finally learn of her passing and had no idea she had been so sick.

Yolanda Rengel lives. Of the two Yolanda's, she  was probably better known by students. Indeed, she was mentioned in the commencement address in May 2012 by speaker Daniel Lubetzky as one part of campus life students reflected on warmly as he researched his speech. That's saying something. It's the professors, and coaches, and a Dean or two who often get the attention. But many times it is the unsung members of the staff, quietly and cheerfully performing their duties, who often make huge differences in the day-to-day life of our students.

Yolanda's reputation is deserved. As she told me, "They are close friends," she says of students, "knowing they are so far away from home." It makes her feel good when students tell her that seeing her "makes their day." She is especially close to our student athletes, as she works concessions at all of the campus sporting events when not at her usual cashier post in Mabee Dining Hall.

Yolanda, 43, is no stranger to her own grief of late, having lost her husband on November 10 and her brother several weeks later. She is now raising her eight-year-old, Nicholas herself, though an older daughter has moved back in to help. Yolanda admits it is tough. It is when she gets home from work that she can let down her guard a bit. It's empty at home, she told me. But at work, with the students, she tries to keep a smile on her face and be the persona she has built with the students.

When I finally saw Yolanda early this week, after having learned she was the surviving one, I gave her a small hug and told her I was glad she was alive. I would have done the same for the other Yolanda. She offered a tearful smile. Apparently I wasn't the first to welcome her back from her demise. About a half dozen students had learned of Yolanda's passing, and either didn't know there were two, or as with me, didn't know which one passed away.

It's weird, she admits. "It's scary." She says it has given her goosebumps. Students were worried about her because after Yolanda passed away, this Yolanda was mostly working sporting events, and was away from her daytime Mabee post, fueling student fears.

After ten years here, Yolanda has built up quite a following. When alumni come back and see her "they say 'you're still here?' I tell them - I'm not going anywhere." After this past week, nothing sounds better.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Over time

Trinity was recognized in 1998 for 10 Spurs Nights
I was probably more forlorn about receiving this hard copy anonymous letter than I should have been. So I did what any mature person would do. (No, I didn't let it go.) I posted it on my Dean of Students Facebook page. I think the writer assumed I wasn't sitting with students at the Res Life sponsored Trinity Night at the Spurs game. Or should have made more tickets available. I actually didn't attend as the tickets sold out before I could buy mine.

I have a deep connection to the Trinity Night at the Spurs program, as I started it in 1989 - probably before my accuser was born. That first program was also met with unhappiness from a Trinitonian reviewer at the time. After 23 years and three arenas, I think the program is safe and sound. And maybe that's why this is one of those times I want to box out, if you will.

The first couple years of the program students paid $3 for tickets to games at the old Hemisfair Arena. I think the first three opponents we played were the Bucks, Hawks, and Cavaliers. I loved that old arena and the teams were not very good yet, but there was optimism on the horizon as the city awaited the arrival of David Robinson. The program board and Residence Halls Office planned a pre-game tailgate (hot dog, chips, and lemonade) and offered transportation to and from the arena. We rented double-decker buses and the Coyote even came to campus for the pre-game activities.

When the Spurs moved to the Alamodome the program reached its peak. One year we sold over 1,000 tickets at a cost of $5-$10. The upper deck of the Alamodome was opened for several games each year, allowing Trinity access to such a large block of nose-bleed seats. This also allowed us to sell tickets to the faculty and staff at the same discount. The Coyote (Tim Derk, a Trinity grad) was provided a different Trinity t-shirt each year that he would wear under his warm-up and then flash at mid-court at some point in the game. He would also come to the upper-deck to cheer on the Trinity crowd. The penultimate game was a 1999 nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets, won on a last-second Mario Elie three-pointer. Incidentally, that was the year the Spurs won their first of four titles.

I became a huge Spurs fan from the second I arrived in San Antonio in 1987. It was always important to me to find ways to share the Spurs love with our students. In the early years there were incentives for those who coordinated group sales. I still have an autographed ball from the first time I did the program. They also used to give lower level seats for a certain number of tickets sold. Those were always shared with the RAs who sold the most tickets.

Now, in the smaller AT&T Center, we can't get those mega groups. Gone are the days of bus transportation and tailgates (students wanted to just go on their own). We do a small fall and spring program when possible - selling around 200 tickets each time. That's the highest number we can get. To accommodate our fans from the Houston and Dallas areas, we try to schedule those teams when possible. it was dumb luck that we scheduled the New York Knicks - and Jeremy Lin - this spring. Residential Life sold the tickets and announced the sales through table tents, banners, LeeRoy and more.

So why someone called foul on me is beyond me, really. Over time, I have probably earned the privilege to some decent seats. But that isn't the point of the program. It's more about the thousands of students who have had access to see an exceptional franchise, in some great games, in some exciting venues. As we head into our 24th year of the program next year,that should be the focus. It will be for me - regardless of where I sit.