Helen Hunter received the 2010 Nonexempt Staff Council Appreciation Award at this year's Staff Appreciation Breakfast March 31. The award is presented annually to an hourly staff member in recognition for living and promoting the mission of the University of St. Thomas. Previous award recipients are Mary Jean Loomis (2006), Mary Kay O'Rourke (2007), Pat Alexander (2008) and Barb Dunker (2009).
An administrative assistant since 2005 in St. Thomas' Office for Mission and Office of Institutional Diversity, Hunter was nominated by for the award by one of her colleagues: Dr. Lawrence Potter, executive director and chief diversity officer. Her other "boss," Father John Malone, vice president for mission, presented the award.
Formerly a secretary in the joint Social Work Department of the College of St. Catherine and what was then called the College of St. Thomas, Hunter began her academic career in 1983 at St. Catherine's. She became a St. Thomas employee in 1984. After eight years in the St. Thomas social work office, she moved to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, where she worked until 2005.
In his nomination, Potter noted Hunter's "impeccable organization skills, effective interpersonal skills and a great sense of humor." He cited her leadership and support with two programs organized by the Office for Mission, Welcome Week and Heritage Week, along with her "impeccable customer service."
"Time and time again, UST community members and visitors comment on how they appreciate Helen's generosity and smiling face," Potter wrote. "She is always enthusiastic about new opportunities to learn skills that will enhance her working relationships with others … . I have found Helen to be an inspiration to faculty, staff and students."
Sharing her time and talents beyond the office, Hunter has been a volunteer visitor to UST international students and helped at numerous weekend projects and programs on campus and in the community. "Helen is truly an exemplary employee when it comes to giving back," Potter added.
It probably would not surprise people to know that Hunter has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school (St. Mary's in Winona) as well as a secretary to a parish (she was the first parish secretary at St. John Neumann in Eagan) and companies in Chicago and the Twin Cities. She brings skills from each role to her job at St. Thomas.
At the Staff Appreciation Breakfast she told a story about one of those previous jobs – as a church secretary some 25 years ago. She invited a certain priest to apply to be pastor of the parish. He turned her down because he was going to become pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary. The priest? Father Dennis Dease, who would next become president of St. Thomas.
"Over the next 18 or so years, he turned me down to be his secretary no less than three times," Hunter said. "I recognized a 'good thing' 25 years ago, and I haven't changed my mind."
Was she disappointed he never hired her as his secretary? "Not anymore," Hunter said. "I never would have gotten to work for Father Malone – and he's terrific!"
Hunter and her husband of 42 years, Ned, are parents to two adult children and live in Inver Grove Heights.