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Going the Extra Mile

Mentors come from every imaginable place.  We often cite the lifelong influence of great faculty; via a mid-winter Web survey, we asked students and alumni to tell us about others who helped shape their education and their life’s direction.

Calla Bassett ’76
From the time I was admitted, John Kenny took an interest that kept me going--when my father was laid off, and again when I really wanted to go to the Middle East with Professor of Religious Studies Daniel O'Connor. He went the extra mile with a smile and a handshake. I will never forget him. John Kenny ’60 served St. Lawrence in several positions, all related to admissions and financial aid, from 1966 to 1991; he lives in retirement in Canton, where he is active in civic affairs.  

Julia Whitcavitch-DeVoy ’90
After returning from my second semester away from SLU (Vienna my junior year fall and Washington, D.C., my senior year fall), I was totally uninterested in returning to regular old campus-based dorm life. I felt more mature and more ready to live off campus. As a government major, I knew Sheila Murphy quite well. Sheila suggested that I rent a room from her and her two daughters in their Canton home. I lived there my senior spring with Sheila, her family, their dogs and two other college students. It was awesome. We had regular “family” dinners and hung out a lot but she also allowed me the independence and freedom an emerging adult needs. She understood the balance.
The late Sheila Murphy was secretary in the government office for many years.

Brian Kelahan ’82
As Thelmo president, I met weekly with Peter Van de Water, vice president of student affairs. We talked over many issues, explored the variety of points of view that would imprint decisions, agreed to agree or disagree. He was a remarkable guide as I negotiated my way through other administrators, faculty, trustees and my fellow students, in order to accomplish our goals as student leaders.

In early December 1980, I was coming to the end of my term as Thelmo president and the end of fall classes, and in the midst of a presidential search (I was a student delegate on the committee), and my mother was dying of cancer. Sensing that I was unraveling, he simply told me that I needed to be home. He helped me make a decision that I needed to make but could not; it allowed me to be with my family and my mother, who passed away 10 days later. He exemplified the personal touch of a small college. Between his weekly mentoring and throwing me a lifeline when I desperately needed it, I will always think of him as an administrator who made a difference. After many years at St. Lawrence, Peter Van de Water ’58 lives in retirement near Canton, where he’s a busy community advocate and volunteer and key member of the University’s Canton Initiative committee.

Stephen Todd ’92
Paula Comuntzis was always warm and welcoming at the Northstar Pub.  She literally gave me a hug and asked me how my day was every time I walked in there.  She was equally warm to my four siblings, each of whom attended SLU and became attached to Paula.  She still recognizes me immediately and gives me a hug every time I'm on campus (needless to say, I wouldn't visit campus without stopping by the Student Center to see her!).

Pamela Burton ’94
Paula Comuntzis and Mary Lloyd always took the time to look out for me, knowing that I was far away from home. Whether it was to make sure that I wasn't hungry or that I was keeping up with my studies, both of them were there for me as part of my extended St. Lawrence family. Paula Comuntzis still hugs students in the Northstar Café; Mary Lloyd is senior secretary for the modern languages and literatures department.

Steve Amick ’86
Chip Jenkins went on to help run the North Country Research Center at St. Lawrence, but when I was there, he was assistant manager of the bookstore.  He became a good friend and mentor, suggesting writers and musicians I'd never heard of and dispensing amazing life advice.  Charles “Chip” Jenkins ’69 lives in Colton, N.Y., where, after six years as a publisher’s representative, he has been a stay-at-home dad since 1998.

Lauren Whittier Schweizer ’68
Growing up in an impoverished single-parent family, I could only dream of being able to attend a college such as St. Lawrence. We had no car and no money. Nevertheless, my grandfather drove me to Canton for an interview with David Lasher, who took a personal interest in me and helped me receive scholarship and loan support that enabled me to attend St. Lawrence. He always seemed to be cheering me on, showing his support and never giving up on me. I continue to be grateful for his and St. Lawrence's faith in me; for the individual attention I received while there; and for the excellent education that became my path out of poverty and equipped me to achieve a 4.0 GPA in graduate school. Our records indicate that David Lasher ’57 lives in Florida, having retired as vice president of college relations at SUNY at Oneonta.

Tom Sy ’82
Jack Taylor
gave me my first job at SLU and was always genuinely interested in students’ well-being and life outside the job. He was also willing to make changes in the dining halls to improve services to students. Jack Taylor retired as director of dining services after 30 years at St. Lawrence. His name graces the snack shop in the Student Center and an annual award for exemplary performance by an administrator.

Michael J. Cronk ’99
Anne Townsend
never slept!  She worked endlessly to ensure that students had the support they needed to achieve any goal.  My friends and I worked closely with Anne to run The Underground.  Her tireless support of our efforts helped create a successful place where students could relax and enjoy campus life.  She was also a strong supporter of my goal to go into college student affairs work.  Thanks, Anne!

Melissa Wilson MacGregor ’98
When I was a student, Anne Townsend was director of student activities.  I was a member of ACE and president during my senior year.  Anne was a fantastic mentor and a great listener.  I learned most of what I know about running an organization and managing other people from her; for that, I am forever appreciative. 
Anne Townsend continues at St. Lawrence as director of the David Garner Center for Collegiate Volunteerism.

Andrew Davison ’06
Terry Cowdrey
truly cares about how students are feeling once they get to campus.  Despite her very busy schedule, she has taken time out of her day to talk with me about my ideas or concerns about campus issues. Terry Cowdrey has been vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence since 1997.

Adam W. Casler ’06
Dean M.L. "Cissy" Petty always had a smile on her face, and would always go the extra mile to make sure that all of her students were having a great experience.  She constantly challenged me to go farther than I had thought possible, and was always around when I or any other student needed her. Vice President and Dean of Student Life Petty served St. Lawrence from 1998 to 2005.

Danielle Weaver ’07
Marna Redding challenged me, always encouraged me to put my best foot forward, and because of her, I am who I am today. Daily, I would sit in her office, and discuss matters sometimes important, other times not. She was always there for a smile, a laugh, a tear and a hug. She has become a friend, and I am very thankful for her and the memories we have made at St. Lawrence. Associate Director of Co-curricular Education and Programming Marna Redding left the North Country in January 2006 for new adventures.

Lindsay Farrar ’05
I met Debbie Sheldon when I worked at the Northstar Pub my first semester. Later, she was kind, warm and thoughtful every day as my cohort gathered there to eat and hang out.  Her cheerful spirit is the essence of SLU.  Now, in graduate school, I realize how much a part of the community I felt because of the intimate relationship students and staff have on campus.  Debbie's presence made campus an easy place to call home. Debbie Sheldon continues at St. Lawrence, working in the Northstar Café in the Student Center.

Kenneth L. Shilkret ’61
When I was at SLU, my dad got sick and money was tight.  I approached Ross Keller for a job in one of the dining halls, but the staff was full.  He allowed me to baby-sit for his children and gave me other odd jobs until a position opened up. He also named me supervisor of the student dining room staff for a period. From him I learned good work ethics and supervisory responsibility.  Ross Keller worked in food service and auxiliary enterprises at St. Lawrence, 1958-75. Retired from inn-keeping in Maine, he lives in Massachusetts.

Karen Helle Nemiah ’82
As the class reporter since 1982, I have been everything from devoted to deviant and always felt respected, encouraged and valued.  Alumni director Frank Shields made me feel important as an alumni volunteer; editor Neal Burdick listens patiently to my excuses for tardiness.  Thanks to both for setting the tone for my first and longest St. Lawrence volunteer commitment!

As an Alumni Council member, I have been fortunate to spend time with President Dan Sullivan. I am constantly impressed by the way he handles his job with sincerity and candor, juggling all his constituencies and giving each equal weight. Friendly but forthright, he is both respected and approachable. And he knows how to laugh at himself.  As I morph into my job as PTA president, I hope to keep his role model snapshot in my back pocket.

Neal Burdick ’72 has edited this magazine for over 29 years; Frank Shields ’54 is retired director of alumni relations; Daniel Sullivan ’65 has been St. Lawrence’s president since 1996.

Chera Marshall ’03
Lew Barkley was a friend from day one. Lew worked in the Equipment Cage at Augsbury and made St. Lawrence a truly special place for me.  He always had a big smile and friendly stories; he always asked how I was doing; he was genuinely concerned. He has affected my life more than he will ever know. Lew Barkley continues at his post, and was recognized for30 years of service to St. Lawrence this spring.

E.B. Wilson ’53
During Tom Coburn’s tenure as academic dean, the leadership of the Board of Trustees, working with the president, shared a conviction that the governance of the University would benefit enormously if the trustees and faculty leaders collaborated on a commitment to find common ground, creating a system in which all of the governance partners were pulling in the same strategic direction. Tom possessed sensitive leadership instincts that helped me, as board chair, acquire the skills so that together we could surmount huge cultural chasms and successfully marginalize a long history of mutual suspicions. Tom’s style wasn’t intentional, overt mentoring, but rather what is often the best kind: quietly consistent, step-by-step demonstrations of an effective capacity to lead. No wonder he is today a successful college president!
Tom Coburn is president of Naropa University in Boulder, Col.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lisa Cania, associate vice president for University relations, would like to thank the five alumni and students who indicated that she was their most influential mentor. As publisher of St. Lawrence, she feels it would be inappropriate to use these pages for text that is complimentary to her personally. “To know that I’ve made a small difference in their lives makes me feel 10 feet tall,” she says. “I have always tried to live the maxim that Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees Bruce Benedict ’60, who quotes his predecessor, the late John Hannon ’44, ‘St. Lawrence is good people.’”
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