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Staff member’s legacy of kindness and inclusion inspires new award

Members of Dionne Henderson’s family stand with awardees Cindy DeCloux (far left), Sue Williams (center right, back row) and Scott Butler (far right).

Faculty, staff and friends celebrated the winners of the inaugural Dionne Henderson Staff Excellence Award Sept. 24 at a College of Veterinary Medicine luncheon. The honorees were Scott Butler, Cindy DeCloux and Sue Williams.

The award’s namesake, Dionne Henderson, worked with the college for nearly a decade in administrative positions in human resources and the Department of Clinical Sciences. She died in 2016 after complications from cancer-related surgery.

“Dionne was a unique person and an invaluable source of positive energy and enthusiasm, infinite kindness, warmth and knowledge,” said Mary Beth Jordan, director of human resources at the college. “We are so grateful to have had her as part of the college community.”

Jordan described Butler, a research support specialist and the former chair of the CVM Staff Council, as the “brainpower” behind the college’s ambassador program, which welcomes newly hired staff and helps them succeed.

DeCloux is an instructional technologist with Educational Support Services who has found ways to support wellness at CVM – a key part of the college’s strategic plan for 2018-22. Jordan praised her for her efforts to implement, lead and promote college wellness initiatives such as community-supported agriculture and exercise programs.

Williams, front office manager for the Baker Institute for Animal Health, “creates such a warm, welcoming environment for Baker staff, faculty, students and each visitor who walks through the front door,” said Jordan.

Lorin Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine, congratulated the winners and presented them with award letters. “They embody the same core values that Dionne Henderson had, and those of the college itself: excellence, collaboration, compassion, stewardship, innovation, respect and communication,” Warnick said.

“Creating an environment of inclusion and empathy for all is something Dionne did naturally,” said Carol Merkur, director of business operations with the Department of Clinical Sciences.

At the luncheon, the college community was joined by Henderson’s friends and family, including her husband Bryan, daughters Mariah and Brionna, and her parents Wilbert and Ethel Pitts. Jordan welcomed them and shared her memories of Henderson, recalling how, the evening before Henderson’s initial interview, Jordan happened to be working in the office late.

“I heard the pitter-patter of little feet coming down the hall – and there was Dionne with her young daughters in tow, making sure she knew exactly where to go in the morning,” Jordan said. “It gives us great joy to honor Dionne’s memory here today.”

The “In Strong Hands” Staff Award, created by Dean Donald Smith in 2001 to recognize the contributions of staff members at the college, was renamed to honor Henderson and opened to the community for nominations this summer. It will be given annually to nonacademic staff who consistently demonstrate a high level of commitment to the college and its community members.

“They not only excel at their jobs, but also have a positive and influential impact on the college environment and foster cooperation and collaboration among colleagues,” said Warnick.

The CVM Staff Council is creating a new plaque for the award, which will be updated annually and displayed prominently at the college. Warnick and Jordan thanked the council – which collected and reviewed nominations and chose the award recipients – for their work.

“Their efforts have resulted in something special,” Warnick said, “something that recognizes the importance of collaboration across the college and the value of doing one’s work with kindness and enthusiasm.”

Melanie Greaver Cordova is a staff writer with the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Lindsey Hadlock