Julie Sullivan

Up Front: Extraordinary Tommies

St. Thomas said thank you to a special group in May – more than 90 people who worked a collective 2,000 years at the university and influenced generations of students.

St. Thomas said thank you to a special group in May – more than 90 people who worked a collective 2,000 years at the university and influenced generations of students.

Two thousand years! When stretched together, they would take us back to the time of Christ. The number astonishes me, in one sense, because of its sheer size. But in another sense, I am not surprised.

Our celebration during final exams week gave us an opportunity to commend 22 professors and 70 staff members and administrators who participated in our voluntary retirement incentive program. They were eligible for the program if they were 55 or older, had 10 or more years of continuous service and had combined age and years of service of 70. The plan was intended to make retirement feasible for people who were ready to retire but had financial or other concerns.

It was a difficult decision for many people. They agonized over what to do, and understandably so. While some had actively anticipated retirement, others had envisioned it further down the road; now there was an opportunity to benefit from a generous plan, and they had to decide if this was the right time.

We will sorely miss our retirees and the marvelous contributions they made to create the St. Thomas of today. At the same time, we are reassured in knowing these retirees built an outstanding university that is attracting talented new employees who will ensure that St. Thomas continues to flourish.

The retiring staff member with the most seniority is Dave Naugle, 68, director of networks and telecommunications. Dave started Feb. 22, 1972, as a computer operations manager, and was grateful for a job. He had been laid off five months earlier and had a wife and two young children to support. Computing Center Director Steve Nachtsheim, now a member of our Board of Trustees, hired Dave, and in his 42 years in a variety of positions he saw St. Thomas move from using computer punch cards for class schedules and grade reports to making the most of the Internet. He stayed so long because he found St. Thomas "a great place to work," and he will most miss "the college atmosphere and the campus setting. The students keep you young," he said.

Dr. Lon Otto, 66, the most senior faculty member, began teaching here in 1974 after completing his Ph.D. in English at Indiana University. He still remembers a colleague talking about his 25 years at St. Thomas and wondering, "How on earth could anybody stay at one place for so long?" Lon did, and then some. He won many writing awards for his short fiction, advised the Summit Avenue Review, a student literary magazine, for more than three decades, and always taught. He had three sections of what he called "freshman English" his first semester, and finished this spring with two sections of a writing and literature class and an advanced creative writing class. He stayed for two reasons: "having close relationships with faculty colleagues and students who made it worthwhile."

The experiences of Dave and Lon prove one thing to me: St. Thomas is an extraordinary community of people who care deeply about each other and are committed to providing an exceptional education. That’s why I am not surprised our retirees spent a collective 2,000 years here. They had rewarding jobs and they identified with our mission.

We will miss them, and we wish them the best in the years ahead.

Read more from St. Thomas magazine.