By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – It’s hard to summarize her impact on the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
When you work at one place for 45 years, there’s just too much to mention in a single story.
Simply put, Lonna Weiss was an incredible resource within the UNK Division of Student Affairs, a friendly face who truly cared about students and colleagues.
“It’s impossible to count the number of smiles she gave, the number of students and staff she helped, the number of people she listened to with an empathic ear, the number of times she helped find available funding sources, the number of new bosses and staff she welcomed, the number of budget transfers she completed and the number of lives that she touched,” co-worker Holly Peterson said. “She is why Student Affairs has been successful as a division.”
Raised on a farm near Wilcox, Weiss attended UNK back when it was known as Kearney State College, earning a two-year secretarial certificate. She was immediately hired by her alma mater in July 1979, allowing her to work full time while pursuing an office administration degree, which she completed in fall 1985.
She’s had the same position throughout her career – administrative associate – but her impact on campus was always growing and evolving.
In the early days, she assisted sororities, helped match students with faculty advisers, worked on the campus food service contract and served as the editor and advertisement sales representative for the student handbook. That was before computers became commonplace, she’s quick to point out.
“If you made a mistake on a page, you got to retype the whole thing,” said Weiss, who also taught jazz dance classes on campus for two semesters.
Over the years, Weiss developed a reputation as the division’s financial guru. She was the go-to person for anything budget-related, ensuring the various departments operated efficiently.
No matter the task, her focus was always on the students. She was constantly looking for ways to create a positive experience for Lopers.
“I really felt blessed to work in an environment where our entire division was all about serving the students,” Weiss said. “What can we do to improve our services? How can we help them outside the classroom? Those things were very important to me. I felt a lot more satisfaction knowing that maybe, in a small way, you’ve helped better somebody else’s life.”
George Holman, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, gives Weiss a lot of credit for her role in developing and maintaining this team mindset.
“Every student who has attended UNK or Kearney State College since 1979 owes Lonna Weiss some gratitude,” he said. “They may not have interacted with her directly, but they have benefited from the work she did day in and day out. Those students who interacted with her directly will tell you that she is a warm and caring person who wanted to make their experience at UNK positive.”
Although she transitioned to a part-time role in summer 1989, following the birth of her first child, Weiss remained very active on campus. She served on countless committees, planned division retreats, attended professional development activities, helped develop training materials for new employees and was always willing to answer questions from students or co-workers.
Holman called her a “consistent rock” within the Division of Student Affairs.
“She has gone out of her way to make new staff feel welcomed and given them the tools to be successful,” he said. “She has invested so much of herself in UNK and its people. If someone was sick or experienced the loss of a loved one, she made sure that person was cared for. If a student needed assistance, she made sure they got what they needed.”
Peterson, an administrative coordinator in Student Affairs, shared the same sentiment.
“Lonna has been the face of Student Affairs for the last four decades and welcomes everyone she sees,” Peterson said. “She has a kind, compassionate and caring heart and is always willing to offer a helping hand. She has been a great friend to many and truly cares about making sure that everyone in the division has the resources needed to be successful.”
Weiss, who retired from UNK on Thursday, won’t miss the 40-mile commute from Kearney to Holdrege, where she lives with her husband Marvin. She’s “ready to be done with that drive.”
The interactions with students and colleagues will be harder to let go.
“I’ve always considered UNK as my second family, so I’ll definitely miss the people I’ve worked with and gotten to know,” Weiss said. “It’s a blessing to have so many people you can rely on and work with in such a great way.”
The 65-year-old has two sons and two granddaughters to spend time with, and she’s very involved at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Holdrege, where she’s a volunteer with the food pantry and financial assistance program.
Weiss also enjoys crafts and craft shows. In fact, she started the annual campus event that allows UNK students, staff and faculty to showcase their talents and plans to continue participating as a retiree.
“It’s just been a true honor and blessing to be part of this university, and I wish everyone the best as they continue on,” Weiss said.