Four longtime Technology Infrastructure & Operations staff have announced their plans to retire from Lehigh University. Telephone Operators Brenda Bartholomew and Mary Ann Otto, Communications Coordinator Debbie Henritzy, and Lead Telephone Operator Gail Fosburg will all retire on August 30, 2019.
Lizanne Hurst, Manager of Telecommunications and Network Infrastructure, said they are retiring with a combined 118 years of experience. “That's a lot of Lehigh history,” she said. “It's hard to imagine a more knowledgeable, reliable, dedicated group of staff. They will be greatly missed.”
Brenda Bartholomew was hired as a part-time telephone operator in 2004, working weekends and filling in for operators on other shifts. She was quickly promoted to full time status and has served as our primary evening operator since 2006.
Brenda enjoyed the evening shift, particularly providing information and helping callers who were often surprised and gratified to reach a live person after hours. As essential staff she was required to work even when the university closed for inclement weather, and she was unfailingly reliable even when navigating through ice storms and other difficult weather. She enjoyed her co-workers and all her Lehigh callers. Brenda looks forward to spending more time with her family in retirement.
Gail Fosburg, the longest-serving member of the Telecommunications and Network Infrastructure team, was hired at Lehigh in 1976 as a part-time telephone operator. She started out patching calls on the old-fashioned “cord boards,” when phone extensions for employees were limited and the residences had only pay phones. In her time at Lehigh she has worked on five different telephone systems, the latest being our new Cisco platform.
Gail was promoted to lead telephone operator in 1989, a position she has held ever since. Her responsibilities included supervising the other operators and making sure someone was always scheduled to cover the attendant console, but more importantly, helping callers find what they needed on and around campus. In addition to answering calls, Gail has also served as a detective, constantly searching out better, more updated information to pass along to callers.
The operators are classified as essential university staff, and Gail vividly recalls braving snow, sleet, and freezing rain to get to campus. The Halloween storm of 2011 and Superstorm Sandy of 2012 were especially challenging, with widespread power outages both on- and off-campus. Circumstances required the operators to relocate to temporary space in the cold, noisy telephone switch room to continue assisting callers.
Maintaining a professional demeanor is not always easy when faced with irate callers, distressed parents, prank calls, lost visitors seeking directions, and even bomb threats - but with Gail’s help and under her capable supervision, Lehigh’s operators have risen to this challenge over one million times in the last 40 years.
Gail has treasured her time at Lehigh and considers it a blessing and a privilege to have worked with her longtime colleagues.
Debbie Henritzy was hired in 1985 as an administrative coordinator in what was then Telephone Services. Her first few years were exciting as the first modern PBX was installed on campus in 1986, and the Mountaintop Campus was acquired in 1987. The new, expanding department was christened Telecommunications, and there was plenty of work to be done.
Telecommunications’ parent group Computing and Communications merged with the Library to form Information Resources in the mid 1990s, and Debbie transitioned into the newly formed Administrative Services Group. There she was responsible for paying the university’s main telephone bills, handling telecommunications purchase orders, and managing invoices and reports for Telecommunications’ accounts.
In 2001 she returned to Telecommunications as a work order coordinator, where her primary responsibility was to provide phone and voice mail assistance to the campus community. In fact, it is Debbie’s voice you hear on many department voice mail menus. She also coordinated phone and network connections for department renovations, and managed critical telecommunications databases such as 911 emergency.
Debbie was elected twice to Lehigh’s Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC) as a non-exempt staff representative. There she served on several subcommittees: awards, events and Campus Engagement. She also served on the Wellness Committee and volunteered as a Connections facilitator.
She acted as faculty moderator of the student dance team for four years, where she recalls participating in flash mobs during several first year move-in picnics.
Her post retirement plans involve more time with her granddaughters and family, trips to the beach, volunteering, working out at the gym - and doing nothing!
Mary Ann Otto was hired as a part time weekend operator in September 1993, transitioning to full-time the following year. At that time Telecommunications was located in Linderman Library, and despite working many evening shifts and hearing odd noises, she never personally encountered “Linderman’s ghost,” rumored to have spooked the occasional library patron.
Mary Ann said how happy she was working at Lehigh over her 26-year career, getting to do what she loved to do -- talking on the phone. “Most of all,” she said, “I enjoyed talking to the students, helping them find buildings, numbers for pizza shops, taxis and many other things.” Over the years, she developed friendships with callers, remembering one in particular, Mr. Harry Brown, a 1960s Lehigh grad who has kept in touch, even sending Christmas cards every year. She says she loved the people she worked with, and helping callers of all walks, from faculty and staff to students and alumni. “So this is the ‘final curtain,’ retirement,” she said. “Thank you for this time in my life.”
Although Mary Ann will miss her Lehigh family, she notes she won’t miss driving to Lehigh during snow and ice as is required for essential staff. Her retirement plans include Florida travel, enjoying more activities with the senior group at her church, Holy Ghost Parish in Bethlehem, and spending more time walking her dog.
Please join us for an on-campus reception on Wednesday, August 21 from 2:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the EWFM Computing Center, lower level, to wish our Telecommunications staff well in their retirements.