Chancellor's Blog

Steve Wodarz- Heating PlantSteve Wodarz works in the central heaing plant.


Unsung heroes

October 16, 2017 | Dean Van Galen


Let’s face it. It’s easy to take people for granted. We all get busy. With this post, however, I would like to spend some time reflecting on those people who make the university work—the unsung heroes, if you will. On our campus, it’s the people who clean our residence halls and classrooms, who shovel and plow snow at 4 a.m. on a winter day, who support our academic departments and faculty, who make sure that our email and website magically work every day.

Over my past eight years here, I have heard many accounts of how the unsung heroes at UW-River Falls have made a difference in the success of our students and our university. Shortly after I began my role as chancellor, I heard the story of how Nancy Paulsen—then a custodian in McMillan Hall—helped a student prepare for a social event by helping him tie his necktie, a skill that he had yet to master.     

Pictured in the photo above is Steve “Woody” Wodarz. Few on campus know Woody, but everyone benefits from the work he and his staff do. Woody is the manager of our central heating plant. Most of Woody’s days include cleaning boilers, operating steam pits and keeping track of plant efficiency and performance. More than once, Woody has invited me to help shovel coal, “Chancellor, we will be shoveling at 6 a.m. Will I see you there?” It’s in good fun, of course, but it’s also a reminder to me of university employees who do difficult but critical work, with few accolades.

Growing up in Waupun, my family dinner conversations were filled with reports from my parents’ days working in the factory. My father, who only had the opportunity to complete the 8th grade, worked as an assembly line worker at John Deere in Horicon, and my mother worked for many years in a garment factory in Waupun. After I became chancellor, my father teased me that I probably spent my days “with my feet on my desk” since I was “management.” Although he was joking, the point he made was real:  never think too highly of your own importance, and never underestimate the importance of the work of others on your team, or in your community.  

There is an old story that goes as follows:

Two stonecutters were asked what they were doing. The first said, I am cutting this stone into blocks. The second replied, I am on a team that is building a cathedral.

To those at UWRF who some may see as just cutting stones, I say you are part of building a “cathedral,” that is, you are an important part of an institution that has impacts far beyond whatever your task at hand may be.

I would like to invite each one of us, especially those who have been entrusted with roles of leadership, to take a moment to reflect on the work of unsung heroes such as Nancy Paulsen and Woody Wodarz. If you are one of those unsung heroes, thank you! Your work enables all of us, and most importantly our students, to succeed.


NOTE: One of the ways we try to celebrate our unsung heroes at UW-River Falls is by recognizing individuals in different employment categories through an annual nomination and awards process. The 2017 recipients of the Chancellor's Recognition Award for University Staff are Greg Thomas, facilities maintenance specialist, and Roxanne Schneberger, purchasing agent, Facilities Management. The 2017 Chancellor's Award for Excellence for Academic Staff recipient is Laura Walsh, administrative program manager II, CAFES. To view past recipients, visit and