Dona Welch

A Reflection on Time at CCV

I still remember the day I interviewed at CCV.  I was applying for the post of secretary to the Dean. The central office at that time was over the Howard Bank on the corner in downtown Montpelier, and the “lobby” was outside the elevator where a single chair and a little table with a coffee pot were stationed.  As I sat waiting, a tiny woman impeccably dressed in shades of grey came out and got a cup of coffee.  She sort of stared at me over her coffee cup and, I admit, I was kind of intimidated.

I interviewed first with Bill Stickney and a woman whose name I don’t remember.  After I spoke with them, the woman gave me a typing test.  I was surprised and amused.  I had many years of experience as an administrative assistant and private secretary.  It tickled me that they wanted to be sure I could type!  The other funny thing I remember from that day was that I never saw the woman who gave me the typing test again.  I’m not sure where she came from, but she wasn’t a regular employee in the office!

After my test, Bill came and got me and introduced me to Myrna Miller, the Dean of the College, and, of course, the woman in grey.  My heart sunk.  I was sure I would not get the job based on the look she had given me in the outer office!  We had a nice chat and I went home and told my husband there was no way I got the job.  We were just sitting down to supper when the phone rang and Bill Stickney asked me how soon I could come to work.  I guess I passed the typing test and Myrna thought I would be okay.

There are lots of early memories of being at CCV.  One of the first was that I remember on my first day Bill showed me my office and all it held was a bare desk, an older electric typewriter, and a chair.  I found out later that after my predecessor left everything in the office right down to the stapler had been appropriated by other people!

My office was across from Myrna’s and beside one being used by the “two Michaels,” both of whom were working on a “soft money” project.  One was Michael Rothschild and the other Michael Billingsley (not sure that’s his right last name; I can picture him but not his name).  I do remember the first thing he said to me:  “I’ll tell you my fantasies if you’ll tell me yours.”  I declined.

Other staff in the Montpelier office … as far as I can remember … were:  Tim Donovan, Bill Stickney, Tim’s secretary, Anne Dodge, Nancy Severance, Jodi Coyle, Dick Eisele, Sarah Carter, Roger Cranse, Dawn Anderson (?).  I think we had a receptionist, but can’t remember her name.  Not too long after I came to CCV, we hired Lois Hanna to be our receptionist.

I remember really enjoying working for Myrna, who was in my opinion, the most sophisticated woman I’d ever known.  Sometimes when she was speaking, she would lower her voice making whoever she was talking to lean in closer because you didn’t want to miss anything.  I think some people underestimated Myrna because she was so attractive and sophisticated, but underneath she was warm and incredibly smart and capable … clear, I’m sure from the positions she held after CCV.

Here’s another early memory that almost ended my CCV career in the first week.  One of the duties Myrna told me about was to be secretary to the Administrative Council.  At that time, the Administrative Council met once a month, as did the College Council and the Academic Review Board.  At the end of my first week, I think on Thursday, was the first Administrative Council meeting.  The members gathered in the big conference room at the front of the building.  As far as I can remember, the members were Myrna, chair of course; Peggy Williams, Northern Region Director; Nancy Chard, Southern Region Director; Tim Donovan, External Programs; maybe Roger Cranse; and Bill Stickney.  It seems like someone else was there, but I’m not sure who.

Every one was in the room and seated when Myrna and I walked in.  We took our seats, I took out my shorthand notebook, Myrna introduced me.  Nancy Chard said “First of all, I don’t want that ______ woman in the room taking notes.”  Silence fell.  I turned to Myrna and remember thinking whether I spent another day at CCV depended on how she responded.  Myrna told Nancy she didn’t care what she wanted because she was the Dean and she wanted minutes taken at meetings and that was that.  The meeting proceeded, they all went off to lunch together, and I went and bought myself a bunch of lingerie from the little shop across the street.  I figured I deserved it.

Nancy and I became close friends and mutual supporters and I felt she was one of the best people at CCV, but we certainly had a memorable first meeting.

My other duties included taking minutes for the Academic Review Board and the College Council.

The big project those first months was the first Title III grant application.  There were many people working on this project and this was in the days before computers so it involved hours and hours of retyping pages.  I discovered later that my office had a memory typewriter, but it went to OEP before I arrived.

I began at CCV in January.  In early April, Myrna and Bill came to me and told me that one of my duties was to organize the annual commencement ceremony … in June!  They told me I could form a committee, but with so little time I declined and put the event together myself … as a matter of fact, it was my own CCV graduation!  We held it at the Elks

Not too long after I started at CCV some visitors came to the office from other colleges.  I asked Myrna what they were doing and she said sometimes staff visited other colleges.  Not having any experience in higher ed, I accepted it, but for some reason it made me uneasy to have them there.  I found out not long afterwards that I was right to be uneasy.  Myrna had accepted a job as President of Monhegan Community College in CT.  I was pretty sad.  I really enjoyed working for Myrna and admired her.  We planned a great going-away party for her at TopNotch Resort in Stowe.  It was a memorable event and was the beginning of Bill Stickney’s last days at CCV.

I continued at CCV and the college undertook a national search for a President.  Chancellor Richard Bjork chaired the search committee and acted as president for the college until we filled the position, so I worked for him for a while.  I remember being a member of the search committee and helping to organize it.  One of the late arriving applications was from Ken Kalb and he became one of the finalists we invited to Montpelier to interview with the search committee.  It can still remember Ken’s interview.  He was very nervous and very sincere.  And, he turned out to be the very best choice we could have made for CCV’s first ever president.

I mentioned the Title III application above.  Thanks to the intervention of Senator Bob Stafford, CCV did receive the funding, which I think was for three years.  It enabled us to expand our operations around the state and, as everyone knows, we finally grew to 12 satellite offices in Bennington, Brattleboro, White River Junction, Rutland, Middlebury, Burlington, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Newport, Morrisville, Montpelier, Springfield.

Not long after Ken became president, we learned that we would be moving to Waterbury.  I was devastated; I had a small child and the last thing I wanted was to drive an extra half hour to and from work each day.  I thought long and hard and decided to give it a try.  I hated the drive, but I loved working at the College so much I made the sacrifice.

I was on the “move committee” for the Waterbury change, and I remember the first time we got a chance to look over our new space in Wasson Hall.  It was pretty awful with peeling walls and a generally dismal atmosphere.  We decided how to allocate space and what we would need.  Over the months it came together.  We would have for the first time our own Business Office with Stephanie O’Rourke leading the team.

Here’s a strange story about Wasson Hall that most people don’t know.  At some point, it had been a residence for nurses doing training at the State Mental Hospital.  I had a good friend who was an R.N. and had actually lived in Wasson during her training.  It turned out that the room that eventually became my office was her “dorm” room!

I have so many memories of CCV; most of them wonderful, some downright hilarious.  Among my favorites were the after graduation parties we used to have at Sarah Carter’s house.  The beer would flow and there was so much laughter and camaraderie.  Nancy Chard was always a merry prankster and some of our “adventures” are probably legendary at this point.  One time I remember we had an Academic Review Board meeting on St. Patrick’s Day and went to the Thrush Tavern for lunch.  The place was packed and the hostess asked us how many in our party when we arrived.  We told her and she said are you’re the “X” party (which we weren’t), but Nancy immediately said yes and we were seated.  Another time, Nancy and I were in the Grand Union in Montpelier for some reason and Nancy wrote a check for her purchase.  The clerk asked her for her GU card number and she rattled it off.  When we got outside I asked her why she had a Montpelier Grand Union card.  She said she didn’t, she just made up the number on the spot.  She was a force of nature, a wonderful friend, and I was devastated when I learned she had passed away and no one had let me know.  I miss her still.

It’s impossible for me to write anything about CCV without reflecting on the many roles and responsibilities I had while employed there.  I grew as a person and as a professional over my 11 years and took on duties as varied as forming the first alumni group with Maryellen Lowe, doing the first non-grant related fund-raising for scholarships and books, doing all the advertising for the twelve sites, working on all the publications, serving on the Gender Equity Committee, planning many graduations, being Clerk to the Academic Review Board, serving on experiential learning assessment committees, to name a few.  It was demanding and I loved it.

As I am writing this I’ve realized something.  CCV was more to me than a job.  Of course it got me started on my academic career with my Associate Degree, which lead to my Bachelor’s degree from Johnson State College, and my Master of Arts degree from Norwich University.  All along the way, I felt enriched and empowered and vastly supported by my colleagues at CCV.  Their encouragement and their love and respect were priceless.  If my personal life hadn’t taken such a turn, I probably would have ended up retiring from the College; but I had to leave Vermont for my personal emotional survival.  I can assure you nothing I found in terms of a workplace ever lived up to my wonderful CCV experiences.

Before I finish this, I want to take the opportunity to mention some particular people because, for me, CCV was all about the people.

I’ve spoken about Myrna Miller.  She was more than my boss; she was a cheerleader and a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration.

Dick Eisele was a great friend and we would spend way too much time talking about personal and intellectual development.  He was a great help to me when I was working on my BA from Johnson’s EDP, and I don’t know if I ever thanked him enough.

Jean Coletti started at CCV as the receptionist and grew unbelievably while she was there, eventually becoming responsible for the annual commencement ceremony.  I became very close to her and hope I helped her along the way as so many helped me.

Ken Kalb was a great boss and a great friend.  I’m sorry we’ve sort of lost touch over the years.  He was a source of wonderful support and encouragement for me and told me I could do anything; not only told me but made me believe it.

Michael Sawdey was another special person.  He was another who encouraged me and I could always feel was on my side.  I was so sad when he left.

There are many, many others who will always stick in my mind for the truly great colleagues and friends they were over the years:  Pixley Tyler, Kathi Rousselle, Jan Young, Rhonda Barr, May Bottomley, Maryellen Lowe, Bette Matkowski, Sarah Carter, Anne Dodge, Diane Maccarrio, Joan Kaye, Eric Sakai, David Buchdahl, Nancy Severance, Liz Patch.  I know there are lots more, and I apologize if I’ve left someone out.

What I’m trying to say is what everyone knows.  CCV is more than a College, more than a business, more than an “institution of higher learning.”  For those of us who have been privileged to work there, it has been a family in the best sense of the word.  We had our ups and downs but the ups far outweighed the downs.  It was an exciting time.  It was an honor to be a part of it.  Thank you, CCV.

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