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Monday, September 14, 2015

Touch and Go

The people that flow through Trinity University - its employees and students - are transient. Some stay a little while, some a long time. Some make dramatic and high-profile impacts and others work quietly and without much attention.

This week, Mail Center Director Edward De La Garza stopped by to tell me goodbye after six years at Trinity. He is one of those employees many might not know. But he made an impact in automating our Mail Center and combining our Central Receiving and Mail center operations. He saved the University thousands of dollars, annually, because he knew how to improve procedures and get value for bulk mailing projects.

Mostly though, Edward worked really hard. He was always thinking ahead, combining his vision with his hands-on attention to detail. He was quick with a quip and a joke, and integrated values into his work, his supervision, and his care for students.

Edward and his wife are headed to Duke where he will run their campus operation. A big Blue Devil fan he is excited for this new challenge. I was touched that he stopped by to say farewell. He thanked me for the opportunity he had to work here, as he was hired during one of my stints as Interim VP for Student Affairs, when the Mail Center was still reporting to us.

He also told me he called my former Student Affairs colleagues Raphael Moffett (Langston) and Ben Newhouse (Birmingham Southern) to thank them more directly for their confidence, support, and leadership. They really brought him here. Typical thoughtful Edward.

Raphael and Ben got another call that same week. This one from Jamie Thompson, Director of Student Involvement. Jamie ascended to that position when Raphael and Ben moved on to higher positions at different campuses. It is a major point of pride when our colleagues are hired away, though we miss them. There are usually others, like Jamie, who can take the helm. It speaks volumes that connections made here are so frequently sustained over time and distance.

Her call to them was sadder. Our dear colleague, Carolyn Bonilla, was killed in a car crash in the early morning hours of September 4. She collided with an 18-wheeler. She too started in the Mail Center, in 2008, but before long was snatched up by the staff in the Coates Center, to work with Ben, Raphael, and others, as a secretary, and then building coordinator until 2014. As some of us do, thinking the grass is greener elsewhere, Carolyn took a position away from Trinity last year, only to return two months ago to serve as the secretary in the Department of English. There, she was reunited with her Student Affairs friend and colleague Ruby Contreras. In all of her roles here, Carolyn stayed away from the spotlight. She connected with several colleagues and a handful of students she supervised in the Coates Center.

The faculty and staff there were already smitten with Carolyn. And her old Student Affairs friends were thrilled to have her back on campus. Real, sincere, funny, sassy, hard-working, and loyal, Carolyn was a great employee and a great colleague.

It was a tough week for Trinity, losing two people like Edward and Carolyn (again). Carolyn's passing touched many, in the Mail Center, in Facilities (where her brother Roy works), in the Registrar's Office, in the Business Office, and of course, in the student services areas. Like so many others, their fingerprints are all over this place. Their impacts and their presence, will fade with time, but they will be part of us forever too.

We are reminded, again, that the people make this a special place. The campus culture is built through their minds, on their backs and by their hands. It's both joyous and melancholy, in a way, for how fleeting it can be. Trinity is bigger than any of the people that make it home. That's how it works. People come. They touch us. And they go. For better, and for worse, they always will.

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