At Gretchen Wesbrock’s going-away party on Tuesday, the assistant director of Residence Life knew it was going to be difficult saying good-bye to her students, colleagues and the university where she has worked for more than a decade.
What she didn’t expect, however, was the ambush announcement that NAU’s 2012 homecoming was being dedicated in her honor.
The honor is somewhat bittersweet for Wesbrock, who recently accepted a position in Cottonwood, Ariz., as the coordinator of the Mingus Union High School District GEAR UP program, a national program managed in Arizona through NAU that helps low-income students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college.
Tuesday’s farewell reception brought dozens of people to North Hall to wish Wesbrock well in her career move while at the same time bear witness to a touching campus tradition.
Midway through the send-off and unbeknownst to Wesbrock, members of Chain Gang—a student group that maintains university traditions and which Wesbrock has advised for the past five years—acted out the time-honored school custom of presenting unsuspecting homecoming dedicatees with a button emblazoned with their photograph. Wesbrock was in disbelief upon seeing her image, noting that one of her highest personal ambitions had been achieved.
“I’ve joked that I wasn’t leaving NAU until I was named homecoming dedicatee and had a building named after me,” she said with a laugh while wiping away tears. “To be honored by students—it’s why I do this stuff. This is tremendous, thank you.”
In a custom dating back to 1936, student organizations from across campus annually select a homecoming dedicatee—an NAU faculty or staff member for at least 10 years who students feel has demonstrated exceptional service to the university and interest in its students. Dedicatees are honored during major events during Homecoming Week, which includes a banquet in their honor and a place in the homecoming parade.
A two-time alum with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from NAU, Wesbrock has strong ties to the university’s residential community. She was a resident assistant in McConnell as an undergrad and a resident hall director in Gabaldon and North Morton/Campbell during grad school. Over the past decade, she’s contributed her talents to the Office of Residence Life in a number of professional roles: as conference manager, Freshman Connections coordinator, and most recently as assistant director for hall staffing. She’s also served as adviser to student groups like Chain Gang, the Edge and AURH.
“Gretchen touches student lives daily,” said Sammy Smart, president of the Associated Students of NAU. “She is one of the first faces freshmen see on campus. She provides them with great leadership experience and models to them what it means to be a Lumberjack.”
Having had many front row seats for past dedicatee tappings, the significance of the honor is not lost on Wesbrock.
“Being an alum and knowing how special this tradition is and knowing I’m among those who have been honored before—I am super humbled and incredibly honored,” she said.
Wesbrock will be celebrated at the annual Homecoming Dedicatee Banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the High Country Conference Center. Tickets are $9.50 for students and $15 for non-students and are available through ASNAU in the University Union, room 206. Cash, check, dining dollars and JDE accepted.