Valerie Vierk retiring after 33 years; ‘I love the spirit of UNK’

One of Valerie Vierk's prized possessions from her 33 years at UNK is a framed photo of a student who asked to have his picture taken with her and his diploma. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey/UNK Communications)
One of Valerie Vierk’s prized possessions from her 33 years at UNK is a framed photo of a student who asked to have his picture taken with her and his diploma. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey/UNK Communications)

Name: Valerie Lee Vierk
Job Title: Office associate, Sociology
Years at UNK: Will be 33 on June 4, 2017. Hired June 4, 1984.
Career Path: I’ve always worked as an office associate. I worked for psychology, criminal justice, sociology and geography departments.
Family:  Fiance, Don Behrendt. We will be married on June 3, my late mother’s birthday. Son, Edward, a lawyer, and his wife, Frauke Hachtmann, professor of journalism and mass communication at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hobbies/Interests: Photography, nature studies, creative and historical writing (published five books), stamp collecting, ice skating, animal ministries (founded spaying program for feral cats in Ravenna in 2012.)
Three words that describe your personality? Thoughtful, kind, creative

Share something about yourself that few people know? I used to be incredibly shy. I’ve always been a nature girl, and I used to love to climb trees.

What do you like most about your job? Meeting a lot of people, especially students from other countries. There is a lot of variety, so I don’t get bored. I also love walking around on the pretty campus, especially in spring. I enjoy photographing campus in various seasons.

Biggest changes you’ve seen at UNK since you started? Technology. When I started in the Psychology Department, there were only two typewriters and one Apple IIe.

What mentors helped you the most. Two other office associates, Dannien Jones (now retired from Natural and Social Sciences dean’s office) and Pam Proskocil (in the History Department for 40 years) have always mentored me. They both had been here several years before I came to UNK.

What is your favorite thing about UNK? I love the spirit of UNK. I like the sketches of the first professors here that are displayed in Founders Hall. I like reading the history of UNK, how Kearney won out and got the college. We’re small enough to feel like a community. There are a lot of nice people here.

What is your favorite place on campus? Cope Fountain, which is right outside the west door by the Sociology Department. When the apple trees are blossoming in April, it is a beautiful place and I have photographed it many times. It is peaceful there watching and hearing the fountain, and reflects the little marker there in memory of Carol and Ron Cope.

Biggest challenge you faced in your time at UNK? Budget cuts of 2003 when I thought I might get laid off.

What qualities make someone successful in your position? Willingness to learn new procedures, which change quite frequently. Also be friendly to all as they walk in the office, as you are the first point of contact.

How do you measure success, in terms of your career? Being able to get along with people, some of who may be difficult.

Tell me about the time in your life at UNK when you worked the hardest? When I started here, the office associates typed almost all of the tests for the professors because they didn’t have typewriters and certainly not computers. Beginning of semesters were very hectic because we had to type and then mimeograph multiple copies. Copy machines were not always used for mass copying. The ditto machine used purple ink and clothes could get ruined from this.

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? Stay home with my young son when he was sick. I always came to work because my mother lived in town and could stay with him, but I wish I had been with him more.

What are your fondest memories of UNK? I remember my first graduation here when I saw all the professors in their regalia. It was so impressive. That one was held at Foster Field, but shortly after they started holding all graduations inside. Later I attended many graduations and helped hand out programs. It is always a thrill to see happy students marching in, and their happy families looking for them.

In December 1996 my time came to graduate after taking classes for 12 years here part-time while I worked. I broke down when I entered the floor and heard “Pomp and Circumstance” playing. By the time I got seated, I was a mess, but the young man sitting next to me, whom I did not know, reached over and squeezed my hand. That was so sweet. I sometimes wonder where he is now.

In about 2015 a Japanese student came up to the Geography Department with his diploma. He was so excited and wanted photos of himself with a couple of his professors. Then he turned to me and wanted a photo with me. I love that photo.