Entering retirement, Mary Frew thankful for students who inspired her



Job Title: Office Associate, Admission to Teacher Education / Student Teaching, Educator Certification Office

Years at UNK: 25 (plus a stint right out of college in 1971-73)

Career Path: Library assistant, Calvin T. Ryan Library; Secretary, Department of English; Secretary, Museum of Nebraska Art; Office associate, Department of Special Education; Office associate, Department of Teacher Education.

Family: Husband, Doug. Daughter, Venus King, and husband, Ryan, of Grand Island, and grandsons Payton and Landon; Daughter, Tessie Zeller, and husband, Bryce, of Kearney, and grandchildren Addison and Tysher. Stepson, Travis Frew, Gibbon; Stepson, Rob Frew, and wife, Kelly, of Ames, Iowa, and granddaughter Taylor and grandson Perrin.

Hobbies/Interests: Quilting and family

How do you measure success? If I’ve been able to assist at least one student (hoping many) to be successful in lifelong careers. I’ve met so many students that when I get to know them I ask myself “How do they do it?”

A few years ago I met a young student who came to Kearney from out of state. Christine had no family support and worked several jobs to pay her bills while attending full time at UNK. She was mature beyond her years. I just can’t put into words how much I respect this gal. She’d share with me her research projects of fruit flies and division of cells, and had hopes of finding a cure for cancer. Her senior year she placed first in national competition in her student research.

A week before graduation she emailed me to be sure to look on the back page of the UNK graduation brochure. There was my name, thanking me for inspiring her in her career. She had scraped together enough money to buy a brick dedicated to me that still remains below the campus flagpole. I looked her up recently. She is now a professor at UNO and continues her research to find a cure for cancer.

This is success in my career. I’m just a small person on campus but still could have a profound effect.

Share something about yourself that few people know? My employment began at Kearney State in 1971 after graduating with the two-year secretarial degree. I was hired to be the secretary at the circulation desk in the Calvin T. Ryan Library. I loved my work, enjoyed the students and just being surrounded by volumes of knowledge. I was so proud of having been hired to stay where I just finished my education. But looking at my paycheck got the best of me, so I left Kearney State to move to Denver for more pay. Huge mistake of taking the wrong path.

After a failed marriage and failed career, because the family business went with the failed marriage, I felt a calling to go back to where my error in judgment began. After close to 20 years away, I was hired back at my old job at the circulation desk at Calvin T Ryan Library. The building had doubled in size, the parking lot was no longer out front, and the Student Union was no longer next door.

The building may have changed, but my desk was exactly the same except moved more easterly. I recognized my handwriting on paper checkout cards. The students didn’t change, only their style of clothing. Wearing dresses and heels, and the guys wearing suits on a daily basis, was now saved for days of class presentations. Students’ struggles had increased, with many now working full-time jobs, supporting families, and driving distances to attend UNK.

What do you like most about your job? I first began working for UNK being inspired by the volumes of books of knowledge that surrounded my desk. There was so much to learn, and I didn’t know where to begin. I’m ending my career with an understanding that my job has brought me volumes of knowledge, not from the books, but from people that surrounded me. I thank the professors, administration and students for sharing their lives with me.

What mentor has helped you the most in your career?  The students that I meet every day on the job are my mentors. I am so proud to be there to serve them, as they teach me something new all the time. They amaze me with their strength and courage to continue to strive towards their goals to be the best professionals in their fields of choice. They are why I’ve gotten out of bed to come to the same place every day for 25 years!

Where is your favorite place to visit on campus? I like the Nebraskan Student Union. Over the years this is where I’ve had the opportunity to attend several workshops, speakers, international entertainment and campus celebrations. The food is great, too, and atmosphere is perfect for gathering for a cup of coffee.

Biggest challenge you faced in your time at UNK? Worrying about budget restraints each biennial year. There was anxiety on what changes would need to be implemented that might affect the students and the courses that would be available to them. Would their cost to attend be increased? Would I still have a job? If I did, would my duties be increased to cover for loss of not filling other job openings?.

What qualities make someone successful in your position? Unselfishly placing your time and energy toward helping others to succeed. Being open minded, compassionate and understanding because everyone you meet has their own life story that makes them who they are.

Tell me about the time in your life at UNK when you worked the hardest? Unexpected change becomes as expected by those who work at UNK. Changes in both federal and state regulations has a profound effect on documentation of preparation of our students. There was one time where I had to pull every COE student file and build a database to download into a government site. The fine of being late on the submission was more than I would receive as pay in a year. I was extremely nervous in getting it right and downloaded in a timely manner.

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? I would have made working at UNK my lifelong career rather than leaving for 20 years then coming back.

What is your fondest memory of UNK? Life is not all work at UNK. I’ve had a chance to see Karen Carpenter, The Associations, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Kellie Pickler and former President Clinton.

I smile at some of the antics by students: seeing the fountain water changed to blue with suds for a bubble bath, students dressed up like crows to protest administration from bothering the hundreds of crows that diverted their migration path to UNK, and trying to solve a mystery of how the tables on the second floor in the library were being stacked as a pyramid overnight of Fridays.

And last of all, looking out my work window and seeing a Ferris wheel filled with smiling newly arrived UNK students.


– By Todd Gottula/UNK Communications