Packing up: Interim Hendricks dean prepares for permanent dean to take over
Kelly Sprinkle took weeks to pack up his office, taking books and mementos home now and then. Only a thin pile of papers and a lamp remained on his desk.
The bulk of what remained was the desk, an empty bookcase, chairs surrounding a coffee table and art on loan from SU Art Gallery.
Sprinkle, who served as Hendricks Chapel’s interim dean, will spend three months on sabbatical as Tiffany Steinwert makes the dean’s office in the basement of Hendricks her own after starting Monday. Sprinkle, meanwhile, will take time to reflect on his career and time at Hendricks — the trips, the student deaths, not being offered the permanent dean position — and decide whether to return to his previous position as Protestant chaplain.
So he packed up the things that marked his time at Hendricks — thank you notes from students, a picture with Joe Biden taken at last year’s commencement, pictures to remind him of places he’s traveled.
Since starting as the chapel’s protestant chaplain in August 2004, he’s been to China and South America for Hendricks Chapel Choir trips; SU Abroad Centers in Madrid and Strasbourg, France, to tend to the aftermath of student deaths; Turkey and Jerusalem for interfaith trips; Botswana, Africa, where he supervised Protestant Campus Ministry students who were building a school for children orphaned by AIDS.
One of the last things Sprinkle took home from his office was an exotic-looking maroon tapestry from the Botswana trip. Soon after purchasing it and returning in May 2008, Tom Wolfe, the previous dean of Hendricks, was named interim senior vice president and dean of student affairs. Sprinkle was asked to take over the deanship for the time being.
‘Kelly immediately, without much advance notice, just slipped right into this position,’ said Ginny Yerdon, Hendricks’ events coordinator and administrative specialist.
That summer was rough. Sprinkle spent morning, noon and evening at the chapel, thumbing through paperwork that came with the job and learning what he could about a job he hadn’t expected to take on.
Staff needed to be hired. The dean’s secretary had been planning to leave for a while, a new community engagement and integrative learning director was needed, and eventually, so was a scheduling secretary — three out of a core group of seven staff members. He also needed an interim Protestant chaplain.
After only a month and a half on the job, the first death came: Weixing Cai, a graduate student who had just finished his dissertation. Cai’s was the first of 14 student deaths — a ‘very much unprecedented’ amount, said Wolfe, who now oversees the chapel after his new position was made permanent.
Zero deaths a semester is more normal, Wolfe said, not 14 students over three and a half semesters.
That fall, Sprinkle was away from the office for almost a month, flying to Madrid and Strasbourg, France, and staying for a week in both locations to be with those affected by the two deaths that took place abroad. There was a funeral in Kansas to attend in between, in addition to organizing faculty, staff and chaplains to undertake the grieving process on campus.
Mike McQuitty, chaplain of Baptist Campus Ministry, said he was impressed with how supportive Sprinkle was when the chaplains were dealing with student deaths.
‘Knowing that someone was trying to care about us as we were caring for students who were in crisis or in mourning — grief — was important and I appreciate it a lot,’ McQuitty said.
In the meantime, Sprinkle was working on finishing a Master of Public Administration degree in conflict resolution at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. There were already three academic degrees hung in his office, but he said the fourth, which he finished this past December, helped his leadership skills at Hendricks.
Wolfe said he was impressed by the staff transitions at Hendricks, including Robbi Farschman’s success as director of community engagement. Farschman oversaw 1,095 hours of community service committed by student volunteers last semester.
It was in the dean’s office that Sprinkle was told he would not be granted a second interview in the search for a permanent dean. Barbara Fought, chair of the dean search committee, told him he was out of the running in person. More than 70 candidates had applied for the job, making it highly competitive, she told The Daily Orange in November.
‘Any time you apply for any type of job, on some level you already see yourself doing it,’ Sprinkle said. ‘It was a little bit of a shock.’
But life at Hendricks — and death, unfortunately — continued.
Yerdon, Hendricks’ administrative specialist, said the numerous student deaths made it one of the toughest times she’s seen at Hendricks during the 18 years she’s worked there.
‘It’s not just the day of (a death),’ she said. ‘The plans go on, and the grieving goes on. … It’s really hard to catch up when that kind of thing happens.’
Sometimes getting out of the office was best. Kate Vanderpool, a graduate art history major who went on several trips with Sprinkle, noticed he began bike riding frequently after taking on the interim dean role, even spotting him on a bike in Middlebury, Vermont.
‘I think a lot of it had to do with what he’d gone through — the stress of, I mean, not only taking the job, but there were so many deaths,’ she said.
Sprinkle said he sometimes thinks back to the students. ‘(They had) so much possibility, and so I often still wonder, if this person was still with us, what would they be doing now?’ he said.
Vanderpool attended the Botswana trip with him, along with two trips to New Orleans, where destruction was still evident after Hurricane Katrina.
‘Both times I went (to New Orleans), he centered on rekindling, going back to people (we worked with) two years previous and just kind of talking to them, seeing where they’re at, how much progress had been done,’ she said. ‘And in some cases it’s really depressing.’
He’ll rekindle these relationships during his sabbatical, too, returning to New Orleans to visit people from past trips and continuing to volunteer.
But first, he needed to clean up the last few things in his office — the academic degrees, the tapestry from Botswana.
There may have still been a few gum balls lingering underneath the furniture, too. Sprinkle, described by several as being ‘accident-prone,’ recently dropped a gum ball machine that sat in his office, scattering the candy everywhere, said his secretary, Elizabeth Cronk.
Colleagues said they never saw him chew gum, but it was the effect the machine had that was most noticeable.
‘How can you not chuckle coming in here to sit down for an interview and seeing a gum ball machine?’ said Michelle Larrabee, the scheduling secretary he hired. ‘When I came in, he put me at ease immediately.’
McQuitty, the Baptist chaplain, said the office had a welcoming tone: ‘He was there and he was available to students, (despite) the competing demands related to areas of churches and fundraising and all the different things that a lot of time have to happen.’
In the end, only a few things were left in the office: art and furniture, maybe a few gum balls, and Sprinkle himself — the thing that McQuitty said stood out most in the office anyway.
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