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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.

4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

I think maybe the photo of Yolanda Rengel should come after the part where you clarify that she is the surviving Yolanda. It was really confusing for a while as I read this post. Also, I think it would be proper to remember Yolanda Hernandez with a photo of her. Thank you for informing us about this. I would never have known either.

David Tuttle said...

I agree. I have previously asked ARAMARK for a write-up and photo and will be adding those when I receive them.

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