Willamette recognizes staff for outstanding service to the university

by Jennifer Johnson,

Eight employees receive Employee of the Year Awards, including the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award.

A Willamette employee’s contribution to the university can’t be measured — not by years, light years or even dog years, according to Russ Yost MBA’05, chief communications officer.

Yost kicked off the annual Willamette Employee Awards Luncheon on May 30 by humorously calculating employee tenure in dog years — recognizing Willamette’s love for the furry animals — and light years, a nod to astrophysicist and university President Steve Thorsett. Five-year anniversaries are equal to 35 dog years, while the combined total of 320 years served by one set of employees is the light-year equivalence of 1,881 trillion miles.

But pages of praise underscoring the excellence of more than 20 nominees showed the true value of Willamette’s workforce. Presenters read excerpts from these pages and presented eight employees with awards for their outstanding service to the university community.

Joni Roberts, associate university librarian for public services and collection development, and Jim Ames, fire life safety technician, received the Richard “Buzz” Yocom Campus Service Award for improving the quality of work and campus life for others.

Roberts, an ’84 graduate who started work as a librarian in 1989, “cheerfully links” a vast web of people and “reaches out to connect us to new sources, goes out of her way to locate or track difficult-to-find materials and opens her doors widely to our students,” nominators wrote.

Ames, who retired May 31, will be missed because of his knowledge and hard work ethic — he was “always willing to help out the grounds team and anyone else who needed it.”

Ashley Town Stovin, executive assistant, and Don Thomson, director of Bishop Wellness Center, snagged the Motto Award for embodying “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

Stovin, who serves Dean Curtis Bridgeman and Associate Dean Norman Williams in the College of Law, is an unsung hero whose relentless can-do attitude and focus on serving Willamette prompts coworkers to joke, “Her personal motto is ‘Nobody cares, work harder!’”

“And she’s not afraid to suggest the dean do the same,” added Bridgeman, who presented the award to Stovin.

Thomson is a tireless advocate for cost-effective healthcare for students, especially the most vulnerable ones. He fought for more emergency appointments for students, initiated the 24-hour crisis support hotline WUTalk and excels at negotiating.

Chris Sabato, assistant athletics director, and Ron Jones, instrumentation specialist, received The Alvan F. Waller Stewardship Award for providing creative, cost-efficient solutions.

Instrumentation is incredibly expensive, but Jones’ “supernatural ability” to find cost-effective and functional solutions has saved the university thousands of dollars. He’s also “surreptitiously cool” — he’s been miles below the ocean’s surface in a deep-sea research vessel and was once an extra in the movie “Jaws 2.”

Gordy Toyama, director of multicultural affairs, and Sarah Kutten, assistant director of career management and contributing assistant professor, received the new Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Award for going above and beyond in their commitment to these values.

Toyama is thoughtful, strategic and a true advocate — the leader of a program students say is “key to their lives at Willamette.” Kutten “incorporates EDI talks in professional development, empowers our students to reflect on their own experiences with creating equity and encourages people to create space and understanding for others.”

Thorsett acknowledged the work of all employees, including this year’s retirees who provided a combined 600 years of service to Willamette.

“All of you contribute in both large and small ways to the daily life and success of our university,” he says. “Your work has an impact, a fact that’s brought home every summer at commencement.”

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