CHADRON – The annual Chadron State College Faculty and Staff Recognition Luncheon Thursday included special acknowledgment of four employees who have or will retire during the 2015-2016 academic year. They are Bonnie Eleson, Frances Gonzalez, Kathy Mason and Jim Moore.
Bonnie Eleson - Custodian
Custodians at Chadron State College work hard. There’s always some place that needs tidied up, halls and rooms to vacuum and wastebaskets to be emptied, among several other duties. Typically, custodians are on their feet all day.
But when Bonnie Eleson joined the staff at Chadron State 27 years ago, she was already used to hard work. She had been a farmer on the Eleson family’s place nine miles west and a mile south of Chadron for most of a decade.
“The thing I liked about my new job was it had regular hours,” Eleson said. “On the farm, we nearly always worked from sun-up to sundown and oftentimes much longer than that. At the college, it was nice to know that after being on the job for eight hours, I was done for the day.”
Eleson’s roots are deep in Dawes County. In 1907, her great-grandparents purchased 460 acres that became the hub of the place the family still owns. Her mother’s family, the Hawthornes, moved to the county in 1928. Her mother was the youngest of nine children.
Eleson is the sixth of her parents’ seven children. Most of the others had left home when she graduated from Chadron High in 1978. She attended college for a year, then became her dad’s farmhand.
“He was the mechanic and kept things going, but I ran the 4-wheel drive International tractor that pulled the duck foot or the disk when we worked summer fallow. I drilled the wheat and ran the Massey-Harris combine when we harvested,” Eleson said. “The combine didn’t have a cab like they’ve got now. I just sat there in the open. I guess you can say it was air-conditioned.”
She also raked hay and even operated the Caterpillar and scraper that were used to build dams and operated the machine used to build terraces in fields.
Eleson said she intended to continue farming, but her father’s health worsened and her older brother, Duane, who also farms in the Whitney area, took over the work on the home place. On Sept. 10, 1990, she joined the Chadron State custodial staff.
“It was good for me to make the change,” she said. “I’m kind of a loner, so farming suited me fine, but it was fun to get to know so many people who worked at the college and to become acquainted with students. I really liked it when I had work-study kids helping me. I got to know some of them really well.”
For the first year, Eleson worked a split shift in the Student Center and Burkhiser Complex, then spent nine years at Hildreth Hall when the education department was located there. She has been the primary custodian in the Miller Building the past 17 years.
Over the years, Eleson said she’s been impressed by the dedication of the professors that she’s rubbed shoulders with, or maybe even inadvertently bumped into, on a daily basis.
“They really care about the students and want them to succeed,” she said. “They often stay after hours to answer questions or help them with projects. After seeing this for so long, I know Chadron State students can get a really good education.”
Eleson is retiring from her job primarily so she can take care of her mother, Fern, who is still mentally sharp, but at age 94 needs some assistance. She also will help her mother keep tabs on the 16 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren who are scattered across the country.
Frances Gonzalez - Tutorial Services Counselor
Frances Gonzalez, Tutorial Services Counselor, who coordinates the services offered in the Learning Center in the King Library. She was recognized for 25 years of service and her retirement.
Gonzalez came to Chadron State College in 1988, a single mother of two daughters, Tracy and Kelli, seeking a degree so she could pursue a career. The Edgemont, South Dakota, native participated in the CSC International Club, which she would later sponsor, and the TRiO program, earning the highest achiever award.
“The faculty and staff took the time to know me as a student. Right away I felt at home,” she said.
The mentoring and caring guidance she received when she was unsure and starting a new chapter in her life is something she has carried forward to students in similar circumstances many times since then. She counts Dr. Gary Musgrave, Carol Wright, Sharon Rickenbach and Del Hussey among her mentors.
“My best memories are the interactions and relationships I’ve had with the students. I’ve learned so much from them. When I see them walk across the stage at graduation, I feel pride that I had a little bit to do with their success. The learning that takes place in the Learning Center– the ‘aha’ moments, the mentorship, the confidence building, and comradery among the tutors – is something very special that I don’t think is widely understood,” she said.
Keeping in touch with students as they complete internships, pursue their professional careers, marry and have children is a privilege, she said.
“It’s a pleasure to hear from them. One of the most moving experiences was receiving a letter from a tutor during Lent thanking me for touching her life.”
Her nurturing reach extended beyond her work sphere. She and her husband, Julius, hosted 15 students through the college’s host parent program from its first year until it ended. They have reunited with their former host students and families at Fort Robinson and continue to keep in touch.
“It was a great program. I was sad to see it end,” she said.
Achieving international certification for the tutoring center in 2002 is an accomplishment Gonzalez considers one of her career highlights. Since then, 145 tutors have been certified.
She served as the Newman House sponsor, on the college’s International Student Committee, Diversity Committee and sponsored the International Club for years. She hosted Hispanic Heritage Month events on campus, took groups of CSC students to the Heartland Latino Conference and accompanied international students to see regional landmarks. She also traveled with them to Nebraska Panhandle high schools where they gave cultural presentations about their home countries.
Retirement goals for Gonzalez include staying in Chadron with her husband, volunteering with her church, scrapbooking and reading for pleasure.
“We like it in Chadron. We plan to spend more time with our elderly parents in the area,” she said.
The couple also plans to travel to Arizona and Lincoln to see their children and grandchildren, golf, and complete the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota on their bicycles.
Kathy Mason - Office Assistant III
Kathy Mason retired in January after serving at Chadron State College for over 30 years.
Her career at CSC began in 1973 as an office assistant in the Counseling, Admissions and Placement Office until 1975 when her son was born. Then Mason, one of nine siblings, five who attended CSC, took a 10-year break from work to raise her children. Her daughter was born in 1977.
Jacque Schmiedt, former director of student personnel services and placement and the first person at CSC to hire Mason, called her every year asking her to return.
“He was such an awesome person and I was honored that he wanted me to come back to work for him,” she said.
She finally returned to CSC in 1985 and was the office assistant in the Placement Office for 12 years. In 1997, Mason moved to the Records Office and three years later became the office assistant to the Dean of Students. The Dean of Students’ title was changed to the Vice President for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Student Services and Mason remained in that role until she retired in January 2016.
Through the years, Mason saw many students walk through her door. Those ranging from student representatives on the Board of Trustees, to Campus Activity Board and Student Senate members, as well as students with disciplinary issues. She said she enjoyed working with them all, even though some were more challenging than others.
Mason served on a number of committees but the one almost synonymous with her name was the Scholastic Contest. She went from being a timid Hay Springs High School freshman taking an Algebra I exam to the driving force who organized many details of the Scholastic Contest for 15 years.
Now that she is retired, Mason and her finance, Steve Klaes, whom she met at a local dance class, are building a home on his ranch south of Chadron. She has also been able to spend time with her daughter, Jaclyn, and family from North Platte. Her granddaughter, Harper, will be two in July.
Jim Moore - Maintenance Repair Worker III
For a quarter of a century, Jim Moore hasn’t had to go far to find a hotspot at Chadron State College. That’s because Moore, who plans to retire Aug. 1, has worked at the Sheaman Heating Plant, the college’s boiler house, since 1991.
In fact, Moore has been at the boiler plant for almost as long as the wood fire burners have been operating.
“I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I’ve been here the longest,” he said.
The plant, which heats a majority of the college’s major buildings in addition to providing hot water and cooling several buildings, was actually completed one month before Moore took his job. At the time, the facility cost $1 million to complete and burned wood chips instead of natural gas. In 2005, a $1.4 million absorption chiller was added. That feature has allowed the college the ability to cool the campus by burning wood chips year-round.
When former Gov. Ben Nelson visited CSC in 2008, he applauded the college’s use of green energy. And, although the boiler plant is the only building on campus that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, CSC officials have repeatedly said the benefits exceed the cost.
Moore said he’s enjoyed his time in the boiler house. He started at Chadron State in June 1987 as a roving custodian but after a few years he wanted a different opportunity.
“I wanted to work nights and working in the boiler house was a little more interesting than mopping floors,” he said.
Although Moore doesn’t work nights anymore – he is on the 3 to 11 p.m. shift – he still enjoys his job.
“There really isn’t a normal day. We have assigned duties but sometimes we haul chips and other times we repair things. If everything goes right, we watch gauges and monitors. We also get all the fire alarm and emergency calls at night and we relay them because we are the only ones here 24 hours a day, every day.”
Moore, who was born in Wayside – about a mile south of the South Dakota state line – graduated from Hot Springs High School. He and his wife, Krista, have been married 37 years. The couple lives right off Old Highway 20 in Whitney and have two adult children and three grandchildren. Moore said a fourth grandchild will be born in July.
Following his retirement from the college, Moore, an avid motorcyclist, has plans to stay busy.
“I’m planning on working on a house and messing around with my five motorcycles,” he said. “I’ve also been to 42 of the 50 states. I want to get those remaining eight off the list."
—CSC College Relations