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Janice Watkins Award Winners 1998 Article

On the job: Award-winning support staff show their devotion to duty

Each year the Support Staff Advisory Council presents the Janice Watkins Award to outstanding civil service employees. The $1,000 award is given in memory of Janice Watkins, who was president of the council and active on many campus committees. She was killed in an auto accident on her way home from work in 1974.

Public health’s James Booker: ‘smiling, pleasant, calm expertise’ by Kathy Vondracek Heading link

James Booker is more than satisfied with his job at the School of Public Health.

“I like everything about it,” said Booker, an instructional communications technical operator in public health.

Booker, who has worked at the school for the last 12 of his 31 years at UIC, is in charge of printing educational materials work and providing audiovisual support.

“The School of Public Health is a place where people pull together and care about each other,” he said.

When the Watkins Awards were presented in November, “it seemed like the whole school came to the awards ceremony,” he added (his 96-year-old mother students also attended).

Over the years, the most challenging aspect of his job has been “figuring out how to fulfill the people’s needs in the most ac curate way and the fastest way.” he said.

“They may be looking for something new to make their classroom materials look nice. The challenge is to come up with something that looks nice and is practical and reasonable.”

Booker films educational sessions for the Leadership Institute, an organization that teaches effective leadership skills to individuals in Chicago’s public health field.

He’s no stranger to Murphy’s Law.

“When you want to make a video, it doesn’t seem like you have anything right,” he said. “You don’t have the right equipment, or the lighting is bad.”

He recalled an incident that happened when he was filming a speaker in Springfield for the Leadership Institute.

“We had all the equipment set up and the main speaker was beginning to give his speech – then we had a fire drill,” he said.

Booker was nominated for the Janice Watkins award by two colleagues at the school: Funmi Apantaku-Onayemi, project coordinator, and Robin Mitchell, visiting research specialist.

In their letter of nomination, they wrote: “Many comment on his smiling, pleasant, warm and calm expertise. He is always willing and prompt with his assistance.”

Booker has a history of doing good work. As Civil Service Worker of the Year in 1994 for the School of Public Health, he received a Sunburst award.

He is active in his community, serving as Jehovah’s Witness minister for 25 years and attending ministry school during the week. He and his wife of four years, Bernadine, work with high school students in his community.

“Peer pressure is the biggest obstacle they have to overcome,” he said.

Booker spends a great deal of time studying the Bible, which he calls “a fascinating book.”

“It tells so much about the past, the present and the future. The focus is on how life can and should be,” he said.

Few people know that before he came to UIC, Booker’s career was headed in a different direction.

“I have been horseback riding all my life,” he said. “I thought ot was going to be my profession. I would have been a jockey, but the closest I could get was exercising the horses.”

He has another unusual hobby – working as an extra in movies.

He’s appeared in “The Fugitive” and the TV series “Angel Street.”

His biggest role to date – his first and only speaking role was in “Mo Money” with Damon Wayans. Wayans’ character asks Booker to get off the phone.

Building manager Bernadette Greski: the woman behind the research by Sabryna Cornish Heading link

Bernadette Greski is an important person in UIC research.

No, she hasn’t discovered the cure for cancer. She’s never conducted an experiment at the university.

Greski, the facilities manager of the Molecular Biology Research Building, is in charge of monitoring the environment in a facility where hundreds of experiment are underway.

The building, which opened in spring 1996, houses the work of scientists, research assistants and teaching assistants in medicine, pharmacy and the life sciences.

Greski is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in case of emergencies – and there are emergencies.

If a room changes temperature even slightly, Greski is notified through an automatic pager.

She must determine whether UIC’s own crew can fix the problem or someone from outside the university is needed.

“It’s my job to make sure they can do what they do,” she said.

Despite the demands, Greski said she is exactly where she wants to be right now.

“I think the university is exciting,” she said. She began her career at UIC 15 years as an account manager in the department of genetics.

Her background was actually stronger in construction and project management, though, so in 1995 she was happy to move to the facilities manager position.

She helped coordinate the building’s construction and the move of the various researchers into the facility.

Her responsibilities now range from security to maintenance to booking conference rooms to making sure the vending machines are working.

Greski’s cheerfulness, kindness and commitment to her job inspired purchasing assistant Pam Paoli to nominate Greski for the Watkins award.

“Her demeanor is remarkably pleasant, despite frequent and diverse requests from the building’s occupants,” Paoli wrote. “Her dedication is exceptional as indicated by the multiple pagers that allow her to remain in contact within the building, in her car and at home.”

Greski’s life is not all business, however. For many years she “moonlighted” as a clown, entertaining young patients at the UIC Medical Center.

She has photographs in her office of her appearances with Benny the Bull, McGruff the Crime Dog and other clown celebrities.

She plays the piano at university events and she’s a big booster of UIC athletics.

Greski helped bring Credit Union 1 to UIC 12 years ago and served as a member of the board of the Illinois Credit Union.

“It was a good thing to have at UIC,” she said.

In what little free time she has left over, Greski has volunteers with several organizations, including TechCor of Illinois, an organization that arranges donations of computer equipment to schools.

Wilhelmenia Kendall of human resources: with 29 years experience, the co-workers call for answers by Kathy Vondracek Heading link

Wilhelmenia Kendall started her UIC career at 715 S. Wood and retired from the same building 29 years later.

But she certainly didn’t spend all her working life in one place.

She was hired by human resources records on the west side of the campus, later worked as a program administrative assistant in Chicago Circle Center, served as a personnel officer for Physical Plant, and finally returned to the west side to work in the human resources/compensation until her retirement last February.

She returned in November to do part-time administrative work in the medical center’s human resources for nursing.

Kendall was nominated for the Janice Watkins Award by someone who knows her well – her daughter, Darlene Kendall, a financial analyst in the Facilities Management accounting department.

Kendall’s husband of 43 years, Raymond Kendall Sr., also worked at UIC as a storekeeper for 26 years.

“She has always been generous in sharing her expertise as a resource and a mentor,” Darlene wrote in nominating her mother.

Kendall served five years as president of the Support Staff Advisory Council, which presents the award.

Her fellow council members can keep a secret enough, though. She was surprised when she learned she was a winner – she didn’t even she was nominated.

“I hadn’t thought of myself as someone who would get the award,” she said. “I really appreciate it.”

In her various jobs, Kendall’s responsibilities have included auditing and reclassifying civil service positions; maintaining position control and salary surveys; recruiting, screening and referring applicants for trades, maintenance and service positions; managing clerical support staff; implementing internal policies and procedures; supervising and training of office personnel, and processing worker’s compensation claims.

“I like working with people,” she explained.

She named four reasons for staying at the UIC nearly 30 years.

“I like the opportunity for advancement here, getting to know and learn about the different fields, the people and the very good benefits.

“The university has grown a lot,” she added. “I like the changes for the future – UIC is taking a good step forward in terms of administration and the growth of electronics to create a paperless environment. The campus itself has changed – it’s more inviting and beautiful.”

One of her favorite, and most challenging jobs was that of a personnel officer in Physical Plant from 1987 to 1992. Her assignments included increasing the number of women working in the trades.

It was frustrating to observe “the hardships women were going through – what it took for them to even be in the trades,” Kendall said, adding that UIC now has apprenticeship program for women.

She was an information panelist for the National Trades Women Conference and participated in the Midwest Women’s Centre “Women Can” program, sponsored by the Illinois Women in Trades.

“Working with the Illinois Women in Trades was a reward in itself,” she said.

Kendall has been active on a long list of committees that promote advancement and unity for various groups.

Besides the Support Staff Advisory Council, she served on the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Blacks, the Chancellor’s search committee and the advisory committee to the Board of the Trustees of the State Universities Retirement System.

She was a member of the University Employees Advisory Committee, which includes civil service staff from several universities.

“I got a chance to help other employees and to be made aware of issues,” she said.

‘I like the changes for the future. UIC is taking a good step forward.’