Volker retires after 34-year career at SCC

Jeanette and Lee Volker
Jeanette and Lee Volker.
Jeanette Volker Family
From left: Daughter-in-law Erika Volker, daughter Stacy Wilson, husband Lee, son Neil Volker, friend Stan Matzke, and Jeanette Volker.
Karen Bonczynski and Patrick O'Neill
Karen Bonczynski and Patrick O'Neill sing a song written by Karen as a tribute to Volker.
Jeanette and Lee Volker Dance
Jeanette and Lee Volker dance to a number.
Volker Retirement Food Line
Visitors make their way through the food line.
Volker and Nya Koang
Jeanette Volker poses with Food Service/Hospitality student Nya Koang.
Jeanette Volker and Diane Siefkes
Jeanette Volker, right, visits with Diane Siefkes.
Volker Retirement The Band
Jeanette Volker's retirement reception included a band.
Jeanette Volker and Jack Huck
Jeanette Volker poses with SCC President Dr. Jack Huck.

Jeanette Volker figured she would spend her working career in food service or a related industry, but that ended 20 years ago.

On Monday, Volker said goodbye to Southeast Community College after a 34-year career, the first 14 in food service; the last 20 as vice president for student services/Lincoln Campus director. Jan. 3, 2014, is her last official day.

“I’m going to miss the people, the students,” said Volker, a Platte Center native and a 1961 graduate of Columbus High School. “It’s been a great journey. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do all of these things. It’s been a great experience.”

A reception, complete with a band, food, family, friends, and coworkers, was held in her honor Monday afternoon at SCC’s Lincoln Campus.

Volker’s longevity with SCC surpasses all but a handful of employees who worked alongside her at 8800 O St. when she started in January 1980 as the Food Service program supervisor and instructor. She’s held just three positions at SCC since: dean of the Family & Consumer Sciences Division from 1982-1994, interim president of the Lincoln Campus from 1994-1996, and her current title.

Food and family

Jeanette Hake was the oldest of five children raised on the family farm just outside of Platte Center. Her 95-year-old mother, Irene, still lives there. Jeanette knew her way around the kitchen at an early age. Her mother helped Jeanette’s father, leaving the eldest to prepare meals for the family and for the hired men who would help the Hakes complete various farm activities.

“I had an aunt who was a dietitian years ago, and I like to eat,” said Volker, partially explaining why she became interested in the food service industry.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in food and nutrition from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1965 and completed an internship with the U.S. Public Health Service in New York the following year.

“I had a wonderful experience in New York,” she said. “It was good for me to experience new cultures. Coming from a farm in Nebraska, I got to see all kinds of things I’d never seen before.”

While in New York, Hake became a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. As one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, the Commissioned Corps fills the role of protecting the nation’s public health.

Missouri and back to N.Y.

In 1966, Hake married Lee Volker, a southeast Nebraska native who had his sights set on becoming a veterinarian. The couple moved to Columbia, Mo., where Lee was finishing a master’s degree, followed by four years of veterinary school.

While in Columbia Jeanette worked a year as a therapeutic dietitian and assistant instructor at the University of Missouri Medical Center. Then she worked four years as food service director for the Student Health Service at MU.

In 1971, Lee earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, and the Volkers moved to New York. From 1972-1977, Jeanette worked part-time as a hospital and nursing home consultant for Johnstown Hospital and Wells House Nursing Home, both in Johnstown, N.Y., and for Community Hospital in Cobleskill and for Palatine Nursing Home in Palatine Bridge, N.Y.

In 1977 the couple moved back to Nebraska.

Graduate school and SCC

For two years, beginning in 1978, Jeanette served as a graduate assistant in the College of Home Economics while working on her master’s degree in adult and continuing education from UNL. Teaching still did not appear to be in Volker’s future.

“Although I had been teaching an Intro to Food Service class at UNL, I had very little classroom teaching experience when I started at SCC,” Jeanette said.

She recalled her first day at Southeast.

“I was overwhelmed,” Volker said. “I didn’t know where my office was, and when I walked in my first day of class a student raised his hand and said, ‘You have to sign my time sheet for the job corps.’ Another said, ‘You’re supposed to register us.’ And another said, ‘Do we have to call you Mrs. Volker? How about Jeanette?’ I said that was fine. I told them that in Missouri it was ‘Mrs. Volker, ma’am.’ ”

She was a registered dietitian and a licensed medical nutrition therapist when she came to SCC. There were fewer than 30 students in SCC’s food service program in 1980. Today there are more than 180 in the Food Service/Hospitality program.

In 1982 Volker became dean of the Family & Consumer Sciences Division (home economics), yet still taught some food service and child development classes. She was in charge of the day-to-day operation of the child development center, the cafeteria and all instructional programs and courses offered by the division, among other things. She remained in that job for 12 years.

Head of the campus

In 1994 Volker was presented with a unique opportunity. Three administrative positions were available on the Lincoln Campus responsible for student services, instruction and technology. Volker chose student services and actually became interim president of the Lincoln Campus in 1994, the same year Dr. Jack Huck was named interim chancellor, and later president, of the entire College.

“I was told I would be interim for four to five months,” Volker said. “It really was baptism by fire.”

The “interim” title lasted two years.

“I was responsible for all of the budgets, including trades and industry and health areas, since there were no deans in those areas at the time,” Volker said. “I literally learned the budget system overnight.”

She remembers getting home at 6 a.m. one Easter and doing what any food enthusiast would do: She began to prepare Easter dinner.

Vice president

In 1996 the “interim” in her title gave way to vice president for student services and Lincoln Campus director, the title on her business cards today. She coordinates the day-to-day operation of the campus and provides senior leadership for all of SCC’s Student Services Division. She’s deeply involved in facilities, including maintenance, upgrades and new construction, and she directs and coordinated long-range planning for the campus, keeping SCC’s mission, goals and objectives in mind.

Volker discussed her legacy.

“I don’t know if I am leaving a legacy, but I always tried to look to the future and embrace change,” she said. “I look at the past and say yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present. Open it, and enjoy it.

“I always looked forward to coming to work. Students are what we’re all about.”

Volker said she’s proud to have worked for “a great educational institution that is accountable to students.”

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Volker, quoting President Theodore Roosevelt. “We have an open door policy. We listen. We’re more accessible, particularly with our one-stop shop on the Lincoln Campus. We’re open and friendly. We design classrooms to be smaller with students in mind. Hopefully we’ve moved SCC in the right direction.”

Volker has countless fond memories, but one occurs at the end of every quarter. She has participated in approximately 80 graduation exercises as campus administrator.

“I get excited about graduation,” she said. “When I hear the music, I think, ‘my gosh, these students are just starting out.’ We’ve had so many students go on and do great things. It’s always rewarding to see the impact SCC has had on students.”

In retirement

“We’re going to travel,” Volker said when asked about retirement. “I’ve got a new grand-baby, my 95-year-old mother still lives on the family farm, and there are some places that we’d like to see. We’d like to go to Hawaii, my brother lives in Belize (a country on the northeastern coast of Central America), and I have a niece who lives in Vietnam. And we’d like to go back to Alaska.”

The Volkers have two children, son Neil and wife Erika Volker in Omaha, and daughter Stacy and husband Jeff Wilson in New York, and three grandchildren: Tatum and Thayer Wilson and their newest grandchild, Reagan Elizabeth Volker.

Jeanette’s husband, Lee, has been retired four years, so she figured it was time to join him.

“He’s spent a lot of time fixing up the farm where he grew up, so I don’t know how much we’ll see of each other,” Jeanette joked. “I don’t know, maybe that’s a good thing.”


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Stu Osterthun
Administrative Director of Public Information and Marketing