Campus “mother” retires after 25 years at USI

Bobby Shipman

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In 1993, a young Venezuelan student came into University Division in a panic.

The senior administrative assistant at the time, Mary Alice Weigand, could barely understand him, but when he pulled out a piece of paper, she knew how to help.

The paper had indentions of letters pressed onto it from an old dot-matrix computer without ink.

After providing him with coffee and a snack from her goody drawer, Weigand was able to fix the problem at hand.

From that moment on, the boy looked at Weigand as a mother figure and spent a significant amount of time with her and her family. He even referred to her as his “American Mother.”

The same year, Weigand’s 17-year-old son was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his chest that was roughly the size of a football.

The boy offered to donate platelets her son would need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan native had been out of the country within the last six months and was unable to donate due to medical law.

With her retirement only a few days away, Administrative Assistant to the Dean of Students, Mary Alice Weigand, reflected upon this story with The Shield, along with her time at USI (spanning 25 and a half years).

Her most fond memories being of the diverse students who came into her life and her ability to help them in any way she could, she said.

“The students, I think, really keep you young. They keep you thinking young, they keep you feeling young, they keep you energized,” Weigand said. “To me, there is no greater pleasure than to take care of the students. Whatever their problem is, I want to find a way to a solution.”

Weigand began her journey at USI in the summer of 1988, subbing for a call-in telephone operator, and then went to work for the university’s bookstore, where she said she fell in love with the interaction she had with students.

Since then, Weigand held many positions at USI including jobs with the accounting office, academic affairs and university division.

“The students that I worked with in University Division – so many of them I still stay in contact with,” she said. “I’ve met their husbands or their wives or they have brought their little babies to see me. That is such a gratifying experience.”

Weigand said she looks back fondly to when USI was a smaller community and how everyone seemed to know everybody.

“During that time, I lost my son and I lost my husband. And (USI), at least at that time, was like a family.” she said. “I think they try to be now, but it’s gotten to be so large that a lot of the names I hear calling me I don’t even recognize.”

Weigand has worked in the Dean of Students Office as an administrative assistant since Barry Schonburger was the dean of students.

“What I think really stands out for Mary Alice (Weigand) is the fact of how well she relates to students,” Schonburger said. “She was just wonderful at being able to read what the student was thinking and what their concerns might be. In many cases resolving whatever their concern was very quickly, to the point where maybe they didn’t even need to talk with me.”

Schonberger worked alongside Weigand for many years and even nominated her for the “Phenomenal Women of USI” award given out by the Multicultural Center to women for their contributions to the university, which she was awarded in 2012.

He said Weigand’s relationships with students went beyond her desk job.

“I could think of times when she would take a student to lunch or dinner or even had a student that was having a difficult time, for some short period of time, even find a place for them to stay for a few days,” he said.

SGA President Zack Mathis has known Weigand since 2010 when he first came to USI as a freshman and she accepted his application to join the association.

“She really just shows that she cares,” Mathis said.

Her personality is what Mathis said he will miss most about Weigand.

“She always has funny little quotes and sayings any time you talk to her,” Mathis said. “She always provides an open environment at the entry of the office even if what comes past her isn’t always pleasant.”

Mathis said although Weigand has met many students, she likes to pick certain ones out and that he is lucky he and his brother share that bond with her.

“She always says we are really sweet and that we are like her kids, so it’s been really nice having her around,” he said. “It feels pretty special. She is a really caring person.”

Mathis said he thinks Weigand’s presence at USI has helped create a more engaged and welcoming community.

“I think everyone at USI is going to miss her,” he said. “She has left a great impact over the years here. She has been able to effect a lot of people – always in a positive way.”

While eating at an “Outback Steakhouse” in Terre Haute, Ind., Weigand said a young male waiter kept looking at her table funny.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I know him,’” she said.

Finally, the boy approached her and admitted he recognized her from working in University Division.

She said she was astonished to run into him years later in Terre Haute.

The boy continued to tell her how supportive she was.

She said he told her the following: “When I was down, you always had something positive to say. When I was hungry, you always gave me a snack or a cup of coffee. Before that, I didn’t believe in myself and I didn’t feel like anyone else did either. When you reached out to me, it felt like I was attached to someone and it made all the difference in the world.”

Weigand said the boy attributed his ability to earn his degree to her kindness.

Her last day at USI is Friday.

Although she will miss USI, Weigand plans to keep in touch with all of the people she has connected with over the years and return when she finds the time.

“Growing up, I always wanted to be a mother,” she said. “I guess that has always been in the forefront of my mind.”

Weigand has five grandchildren and three of them live in Indianapolis. She said staying in Evansville makes it hard to get quality time with them that she will after retirement.

“The thing that I will remember the most is the experience with the students,” she said. “I have met so many of them and I have so many ‘adopted grandchildren’ here. They’re just wonderful young people and to see them do so well – it’s like I have had a success the same as they had. The didn’t just invest in the university, they invested in their relationship with me and I invested (in) my relationship with them. It’s almost indescribable.”

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