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December 7, 2006

Four decades together: Registrar's staffers reflect

The year was 1966. The University, reeling from a financial crisis, was bailed out by state officials who re-designated Pitt, then a public institution, as a state-related university to order to provide much-needed annual commonwealth funding.

Following the move, Pitt’s tuition plummeted and the student population quickly grew from under 15,000 in 1964 to more than 22,000 by fall 1967. And Pitt was hiring staff to keep pace.

This week, 16 of those employees who came to work here in 1966 were honored for 40 years of service at the University, including four of the 43 current staff members in the Office of the Registrar.

Three of those 40-year Registrar’s office staff members, all fresh out of high school in 1966, shared memories and thoughts on why they’ve stayed so long at Pitt and in the same unit, where among them they’ve held virtually every possible position in the office.

(The fourth 40-year employee in the Registrar’s office, Marianne F. Maegle, was not available to be interviewed.)

Barbara Repasi Heron, now associate registrar, said, “I remember my original interview in June 1966. I had just graduated from Rankin High School. My aunt had been bugging my mother: ‘Tell her to get over to Pitt. Pitt’s hiring.’ I interviewed at Human Resources, in those days the personnel office, which was then in the Cathedral. I had no idea what kind of job I was interested in, or what was available. I even failed the typing test. I could type, but I had never used an electric typewriter before.”

Apparently, that didn’t matter. Heron was sent to the Registrar’s office to interview with Jack Herron, then acting registrar.

“He said, ‘Can you start today?’ I said, ‘What? No.’ I felt I needed a little time. But I started a couple days later as a general clerk, what they call a ‘floater,’ which meant I went wherever I was needed within the Registrar’s office, pulling records and so on. That was a great experience because I got to learn everything that went on in the office.”

During her first two years, Heron moved on to become administrative assistant, assistant to the supervisor and then supervisor. Later she worked as a liaison between the office and a number of Pitt schools, which exposed her to general University procedures, which has helped in her various capacities ever since, she said.

She was promoted to assistant registrar in 1976, about the time that computers were being introduced to the office. In 1983 she was promoted again to associate registrar, overseeing classroom scheduling, course scheduling and office administration. In 1998 she served for about nine months as acting registrar, when Samuel Conte, long-time registrar, briefly left the University.

In addition to her Registrar posts, Heron also served as president of Pitt’s Faculty Club for the 1990-91 academic year, and she currently serves as vice president for admissions and enrollment services for the Middle States Association of Collegiate Registrars and Officers of Admission.

Veronica “Ronnie” L. Hoffmeyer, executive assistant to the registrar, also recalled her starting point. “I actually remember the day I first interviewed. All the girls in the office were saying, ‘You don’t want to work here.’ But, it was just their sense of humor. Really, we soon found out we’d be working with so many wonderful people and that continued over the years, and I guess the longevity is related to the fact that there is so much job diversity, so many different tasks, and you can change your job within the Registrar’s office. It’s very flexible.”

As evidence, Hoffmeyer said that at one time or other she has supervised every area in the office except the registration staff. She’s also been an in-state/out-of-state residency officer and assistant to the office ombudsman.

Delia “Dee” A. Kreiling, coordinator of veterans services, said, “A lot of people I knew were shocked when I first came here, because I was born and raised near the Duquesne University campus, and they’d say, ‘You’re working at Pitt?’ And I said, ‘I have to go where I’ll be able to pay my bills,’ and Duquesne wasn’t hiring. Now they’d be proud of me.

“I personally feel our office is the best-kept secret at Pitt,” Kreiling continued, “because there are so many different opportunities. A lot of us came in at the same time, but we went in different directions within the office. They gave you the opportunity to grow with the organization as a team member, and you never were afraid to express your opinion because they took you seriously. No question was a dumb question. They made us feel welcome and relaxed.”

Kreiling said that in her job as veterans services coordinator, a position that is part information specialist and part guidance counselor, she supports veterans who are receiving educational benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill. “And you deal with their families, especially when they get called to active duty,” she pointed out. “My father was in the Army and I’m on the sharing and caring committee for Allegheny County and the county veterans committee. So my outside interests match up with my inside interest but it wasn’t that way at the beginning. I worked my way up through certification [staff], then I was working graduation and a lot of different things.”

In her job, Heron said that when she interviews candidates for a supervisor’s job in the office, she tells them, “We do everything. There is no job beneath us. If somebody has to sweep up the floor, and it ends up being you, then you’ve got to do it. I tell them, ‘I have to know how to do your job to know what has to be done, what time it takes, how much energy it takes, what problems you encounter, and you’ll need to know how to do other people’s jobs so you appreciate what your co-workers have to do.”

Hoffmeyer said: “I think we’ve been so fortunate, and I really mean this, to be working in addition to Sam with three previous registrars who were mentors and nurturers and weren’t afraid to promote women and give you a chance to do the job.”

The three women also reflected on the changes they’d lived through, particularly with the arrival of the computer age. Those changes were welcome, rather than intimidating, they agreed.

“It’s amazing how we used to do things compared to now,” Kreiling said. “I remember when I first started, and they said, ‘You’ll be posting grades.’ They were on IBM cards. I came in and you had so many boxes to put them in and they said, ‘You have X amount of time to get these done or you can’t go home.’ And I thought, it won’t take me that long to put these into an IBM printer, but it did take quite a while. If the cards aren’t in right, it could really screw things up.”

Heron added, “When we sorted grades, they had to be in piles so they could be gang-punched. This box was all A’s, this one all B’s, C’s, D’s and another all F’s. Then we got all the cards back and had to sort them back into order by students, and there was a machine that read them. We had to put the student’s record in, and line it up by hand because each record would have less on it for first-year students than for seniors who had accumulated grades. Depending on how full the record was, you had to move it so that it printed correctly. Then we had to photocopy the records and send them out to the students. It was unbelievable; we worked over the holidays, we had 24-hour shifts. It was just a round-the-clock process. So, I guess the biggest — I would say colossal — thing was the introduction of computers.”

Hoffmeyer added, “I think when you work in one job for a long period of time, you really need a certain amount of stimulation. So the changes were always welcome. I think new technology, new ways of doing things, new bosses with new visions — all that has stimulated us.”

The three women recalled that student registration at one time was held in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room, where the lines “got to be ridiculous,” Kreiling said.

Heron said, “When we moved to Thackeray from the Cathedral’s ground floor in 1980, we eventually said, ‘If we’re going to have a line, let’s have it in our own office, where we have phones if we need to get a question answered, and we have lights — you know how dark the Commons Room is.”

There also have been social and cultural changes over time, the staffers agreed. “I remember years ago,” Hoffmeyer said, “I handled draft deferments during the Vietnam War era — and now the draft doesn’t even exist any more. I think students were a little more actively involved than they are today, but they’ve always been a joy to work with. I don’t deal with students as much in my job now and I miss that.”

Kreiling said, “As each generation of students comes in, there’s something different. At one point, you had the long hair and the hippies, with the faded, bell-bottom jeans. Every five or ten years it changes.”

Heron commented that today’s young adult population — not just at Pitt — is less courteous and respectful of their elders than previous generations were.

“I see that in my nieces and nephews, too,” she said. She recalled that in the days the office was on the Cathedral’s ground floor, the social scene included more personal attention, from the elevator man to the employees in the old Tuck Shop restaurant to the students who used to hang out there. “There was a level of politeness and courtesy that you saw every day. I think people respected people more then.”

Their experience with Conte pre-dates his tenure in the Registrar’s office, Kreiling noted. “We even got to know Sam as an undergraduate, little knowing that he would become our boss in the future, because he would always be with his fraternity brothers in the Tuck Shop.”

Surely, there must have been some unhappy times during their 40 years, were there not?

Hoffmeyer said, “The office has a wonderful social environment. I don’t have to take off my shoes to count the times I have been disappointed or unhappy, and that’s a good statement for someone who’s been here 40 years.”

Heron shared similar thoughts. “I remember one week, years ago, where I just didn’t feel like getting out of bed and going to work,” she said. “It only lasted a week, but I can remember what I felt like even after all these years. I just can’t imagine how in the world can people have a job they hate and go on and on. It would really wear you down.”

Kreiling said, “You always think it’s greener on the other side, and it really isn’t,” while Hoffmeyer finished her thought: “We’ve seen how a number of previous employees have left and come back to this office because they want to come back.”

Heron added, “The money might be out there in another job, and the workload could even be less than what you have here, but you can’t replace the atmosphere. The way we work is if I disagree with you, even a full-blown disagreement, at noon we still can say, ‘Let’s go lunch.’ It ends there, at noon, or at 5 o’clock. That’s healthy. We laugh, we cry together, we slam doors, but then at noon, we say ‘Let’s go to lunch.’

Heron continued, “Being in the Registrar’s office for 40 years, you might think, ‘Gee, isn’t it boring?’ I know this sounds corny, but I really feel like I learn something new every day. Even after 40 years. It never got boring for me.”

Their boss of 20-plus years, University Registrar Conte, commented, “I think it’s fantastic that we have four people who each spent 40 years inside the same department. They’ve been invaluable to me, the experience and knowledge and expertise they bring to the office. Hopefully, part of that longevity is due to the general atmosphere. I like to keep it loose. No one here ever calls me Dr. Conte. I’m Sam. I’ve always taken the position that I take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously.

“I also try not to overreact,” he continued. “There are always going to a few problems or a few mistakes; we’re all human. But we try to use that as a learning experience. I like to point out that the root meaning of the word discipline is to teach. For some the word has negative connotations, but you don’t have to view it that way.

“And we can have disagreements, but we share the bottom line of doing the best we can for the students, faculty and staff and in my opinion there’s a dedication in this office to do that and that’s become the overriding concern,” Conte said.

All three of the 40-year staffers are planning to retire from Pitt in four years, along with Conte.

Heron said, “Ronnie, Dee and I are all born in 1948, and so was Sam, and we’re all going out together. Even though it’s still a way off, I have very mixed feelings. I know I will miss this place.”

Kreiling said, “Barb started in June ’66; I started Aug. 1, ’66, and Ronnie in October ’66.

Hoffmeyer said, “I started the last, but because my birthday’s the first, I’ll be the first to go. We worked hard, we had fun and we rolled with the punches, and I think that comes from the top down and that’s probably why we stayed so long.

“Where did all those years go?”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 8

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