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The Stories That Hold Us Together

Steve Charles—At today’s Faculty and Staff Awards Luncheon, chemistry professor Scott Feller described his department’s curator, Pat Barker, as having a job that’s “key to our success, yet no one knows exactly what her title means and very few realize the important work it entails.”

I’ve photographed Pat at work; I’ve seen in person just how essential that work is. But Scott’s mention of essential work done without much public recognition also got me thinking about one of the other honorees at that luncheon—Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley.

(Click here and here for photo albums from the luncheon.)

Karen was honored for her 30 years of service to the College, and her boss (and mine), Jim Amidon ’87, wrote this for the occasion:

“Karen’s work helps advance the College in so many ways, whether helping recruit students, promote our current students, or keep alumni engaged as part of the Wabash community. She manages our online events calendar, drives much of our media relations work through event announcements and hometown press releases, and manages the production of the activities calendar and academic bulletin.

“What makes Karen stand out is her unwavering love of and dedication to Wabash College, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

And all of us in Public Affairs offer a hearty “Amen” to all this.

But the one role Jim didn’t mention—Karen’s job as Class Notes Editor for Wabash Magazine—is the one where I feel that “unwavering love and dedication” most keenly.

The Class Notes is the heart of any college magazine. It’s why such magazines were first created. It’s the section where alumni typically turn first (no matter how much cool stuff the editor (me) tries to put in their path). These are the stories of alumni lives, and Karen gathers them up with extraordinary patience. You’ve got to care if you’re going to spend hours sifting through class agent letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, web sites, emails, and any other sort of correspondence the way Karen does. You’ve got to care about these people to do the work; to care about the details that have meaning in their lives.

And Karen is the champion of the meaningful detail. One example: Karen and I have an ongoing battle over whether or not to publish the weights and lengths of our alums’ newborn babies.

“Do we really need to put this in?” I’ll ask.

They sent us those details, says Karen, a mother herself. “It matters to them, it should matter to us.”

It matters to Wabash alumni, so it matters to Karen.

The Class Notes aren’t usually splashy, headline grabbing kinds of stuff. More often the stories of every day lives, but the kinds of stories that connect us: The baby just born; the adoption just completed; the wedding and the Wabash men in the wedding party; the illness faced; the incredible places just traveled; the reunion with an old classmate; the change of career and recognition of a new calling; the loved one lost, or the loved one healed.

Sharing these stories holds us together, reminds us that we are not forgotten. Karen brings them to us three times a year. No one comes up to her and says, “Wow! Great Class Notes!” It’s the kind of essential work that people may take for granted. The heart of the magazine. How often do you thank your heart for beating?

Thanks, Karen.

In photo: Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley receives recognition for her 30 years of service from NAWM President Jim Dimos ’85 at Friday’s Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon.

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