University commemorates 200 years of staff dedication with festival

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 7:11pm

Laurita Thomas, the associate vice president for human resources, speaks at the MStaff 200 celebration on the Diag on Tuesday.

Laurita Thomas, the associate vice president for human resources, speaks at the MStaff 200 celebration on the Diag on Tuesday. Buy this photo
Ben Hsu/Daily

 

All day on the Diag and Ingalls Mall tents were set up with activities, music, food and entertainment to honor the more than 33,000 staff members at the University of Michigan. The event, part of the Bicentennial Summer Festival, attracted thousands of attendees, among them families, staff and faculty members.

Over 600 volunteers helped facilitate the event, many of whom were from the Voices of the Staff. Started in 2005, the program was meant to bring together staff from all three campuses and Michigan Medicine to share ideas on community topics. The remainder of volunteers were from across the campus community.

Laurita Thomas, the associate vice president for human resources, was a lead organizer of the MStaff200 celebration, which came about largely from the ideas of individuals in Voices of the Staff.

On the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library in the morning, Thomas thanked the staff not only for their work at the University but for their help in putting on the event.

"I hope you will feel a sense of pride and excitement and enthusiasm, and return to your jobs later today or tomorrow with understanding who makes blue 'go,' who makes an incredible difference with your ideas, your innovation, and the work that you do every day," she said.

Three tents on Ingalls Mall were set up to offer insight into the 1800s, the 1900s and the Future, respectively. Each tent was divided into sections labeled “Communication” and “Lunch and Leisure,” among others, and within these sections, volunteers presented on the topics during that specific time period.

Nancy Kelly, who worked for Michigan Medicine, was a co-chair for the Communications committee. The section focused on how staff communicated in different eras. She was specifically volunteering in the 1800s tent.

Kelly explained the different Communication stations in the different tents.

“In the 1800s, there were lampposts that people posted things on,” she said. “In the 1900s, we have a kiosk, like there is now. In the future, we just have an iPad — how people communicate while they’re walking around campus.”

Kelly said she and others on her committee have learned a lot over the past year while searching for what to set up as part of the Communication section. She said one of the things she has learned while organizing is the reason why the University is sometimes referred to as the Harvard of the West. She said the University received that name because it would accept Jewish students that were rejected by Ivy League schools several years ago.

“Michigan was taking in the brightest minds in the country who would be eliminated from other schools, because we were a public university,” she said. “You’re getting some really good information from people today, and I’m amazed by what everyone has done.”

Sharon Disney, an administrative specialist in the Ford School of Public Policy, was the lead of the Lunch and Leisure committee, which aimed to demonstrate what lunch looked like in different eras. Disney was set up in the 1900s tent.

“We’ve got photos from the Union, the uniform that used to be worn by the people who worked in the cafeteria there when it was more formal,” she said. “Then leisure, that’s where the Union comes in, as well as lunch. The 1800s, we would have focusing on oldtime baseball. We want to just celebrate staff through the old.”

Disney said it was important that the bicentennial was recognizing staff.

‘I think that it’s a great opportunity to focus on staff and realize how important the staff is to making the University run,” she said. “Students are important, faculty are important, but so are staff — to help the students and to help the faculty get what they need.”

In the Future Tent, in a section called “Building Blue,” JW Krantz, who is the manager of operations and maintenance engineering at Architecture, Engineering and Construction, discussed changes in building over the years.

“This is some of the stuff that you’ll see in the future; some of it we’re incorporating and using it now,” he said.

He pointed out a series of controls and a heating, ventilation and air condition system that are already used in buildings. He also recognized a lightbulb-shaped object, in which the actual LED takes up a very small fraction of the inside. It’s only shaped like a lightbulb so people will buy it.

Krantz also acknowledged a new water main made from plastic.

“If you go down to the 1800s tent, we have a chunk of water main that is made of wood,” he said. “It's changed...from a log being hollowed out with some steel wrapped around it, to something that we can put together that’s very durable and has a long lifeline,” he said.

Additionally, the Division of Public Safety and Security Canine Unit was present at the event, as was face painting and martial arts performers. There were also several performers throughout the day, many of whom were staff members.

In an interview, Thomas noted the hard work that went into the event’s organization.

“Over 600 volunteers contributed passion to high performance with the preparation of the exhibits: the historical tents and all the things we’ve learned about history, the Future Tent and the future job workplace, how things may be, and then the people that just cared about sharing their stories, enjoying the exhibits,” she said.

Thomas said she was moved when University President Mark Schlissel unveiled the rendering of the public art tribute to staff, and she highlighted again their importance.

“The result of the smiles on people’s faces, about what they’ve learned, what a beautiful day it was, the sense of pride, when we unveiled the rendering of the public art tribute to staff — I had tears in my eyes about how gorgeous it is,” she said. “So today was about recognizing the staff. Staff worked really hard to produce a wonderful event, and I hope that people will remember their experience for a very, very long time.”

The University Retiree Celebration took place in the Ballroom of the Michigan League to honor retired faculty and staff and their families and friends. The event was arranged by a membership organization, the University Retiree Organization.

During the event, retirees played a trivia game, which tested their knowledge on University history.

Terry McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library, addressed the crowd. He said in September 1841, when doors of the University opened for the first time in Ann Arbor — having formerly been located in Detroit since 1817 — there were three teachers, seven students and the first staff member, whose name was Patrick Kelly.

“Kelly was in charge of just about everything, as staff members are in charge of today, by himself,” he said.

Kelly rang the bell for chapel in the morning, which was required for the first 30 years of the institution’s existence. He was in charge of cleaning Mason Hall and tending to firewood. He also maintained a farm on the east side of the campus.

“We’ve come a long way from a one-man staff,” McDonald said.

McDonald said there are approximately 33,616 staff members at the University, but the number changes daily, as does the number of 10,000 retirees.

“Those numbers change all the time,” he said. “The one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that the University could not run without the loyalty and expertise and sheer energy of all the many, many staff that has made such a great contribution to the University over the years.”

Judy Dean, a retiree who used to work in Information and Technology Services, is a board member for the organization.

“The MStaff200 event was for all current and former employees, so retirees — being almost 10,000 — are a big part of the University community,” she said. “Having them together with active staff was just part of the philosophy of the event.”

Tom Butts worked at the University for 35 years. When he retired he was the associate vice president for government relations and was the director of the University’s Washington D.C. office.

He said he enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with and enjoy the company of other University retirees.

“A day like today is just a great event, to see so many people come together and have a good time,” he said. “The people who organized this staff event really need to be congratulated. It seems to me it’s the kind of thing that helps build a University community.”