Bosnian refugee recognized for service to Cornell

Milkica Radoja receives award
Jason Koski/University Photography
Milkica Radoja, center, receives the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service. Niece Maria Mrdjen looks on while Greg Mezey, right, and Mary Opperman, left, congratulate Radoja on her achievement.

Nearly two decades ago, Milkica Radoja fled her homeland of Bosnia for Serbia – where she worked 15-hour days until she could obtain visas for herself, her husband and their two children to immigrate to the United States.

Her work ethic and can-do attitude have served her well since coming to Cornell in 2001. On June 4, staff from the Department of Building Care and the College of Veterinary Medicine gathered in the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab atrium to honor her with the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

Radoja, a custodian for the Veterinary College, could not have been more surprised. Her brother, Dragan Mrdjen, sister-in-law Zorica Mrdjen, sister Marica Mikavica, nephew Zoran Gligoric and niece Maria Mrdjen were present, along with three Cornell friends who had left Bosnia under similar conditions.

After an introduction by Greg Mezey, executive vice chair of the Employee Assembly, Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources and safety services, recounted Radoja’s journey to the United States in 1997 and her hiring at Cornell in 2001.

Here, Radoja’s work ethic, attitude and outstanding attendance record have made a lasting impression, said Opperman, who quoted from the award nomination letters.

Custodial duties at the Veterinary College present special complexities, nominator Brigid Shipman wrote, but Radoja was equal to them, as well as to such demanding situations as having water leak from the ceiling or relocating 30 workstations due to construction.

In every case, her co-workers noted, Radoja “made our lives easier by quickly, efficiently and quietly stepping in to leave our workspaces in amazing order before we even arrived.”

Radoja “takes ownership for the area that she is assigned to and gets to know her customers as family … is always smiling and greeting you … [and] derives great satisfaction from a job well done,” Opperman read. She also quoted Marie de Roos, who wrote that Radoja’s “attention to detail is amazing. Her smile, pride in her work, and positive attitude are an inspiration … She brings much more to her job as custodian in Schurman Hall than punctuality and elbow grease … She brings a smile and can-do attitude to everything she does.”

Opperman noted that in addition to her job at Cornell, Radoja also worked to bring the rest of her family to join her in the U.S., sponsoring her parents, sister and younger brother.

Radoja’s supervisor, Nancy Trout, wrote: “When Milkica came to work at Cornell … she was so appreciative of the opportunity, and has maintained her upbeat, positive attitude throughout the years … Milkica has certainly used her experiences to better herself and her family as she chose to remain determined and positive.”

Thanking Radoja, Opperman said, “Cornell is fortunate to have you on staff, for your dedication, your service and your commitment to excellence,” and presented her with an autographed copy of “Cornell, A History, 1940-2015” by Professors Glenn Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick.

The George Peter Award for Dedicated Service is given to Cornell staff members who “consistently demonstrate a high degree of excellence in the performance of their duties and who prove their willingness to extend themselves to help others and go above and beyond the normal expectations of their job responsibilities,” Mezey said.

Named for the late George Peter, Cornell’s first employee-elected trustee, and established in 1980, it is the oldest and most prestigious universitywide peer-nominated award.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz