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We recently lost a beloved member of our USF St. Petersburg family. Guy Van Asten, our safety and compliance officer and a university employee for more than 20 years, passed away suddenly of natural causes at age 63.
Guy was a kind and compassionate person who genuinely cared about the safety of the faculty, staff and students. He conducted countless drills and helped us prepare for dozens of hurricanes. The last time I saw him, just a few days before his death, I was driving a golf cart around campus, and he reminded me to wear my seatbelt. That was Guy – always there with a gentle word and a guiding hand.
I share this because I was really struck by how much Guy’s loss affected our campus. With his sons’ blessing, we held a memorial service in our University Student Center and the ballroom was packed with friends and colleagues who wanted to grieve together, share stories and pay tribute to a life lived in service of others. As our University Police Chief David Hendry noted, Guy would have hated being the center of attention. But he would have loved seeing everyone together, supporting one another. For Guy, it was always about people.
It may be viewed as a smidge cliché at this time of year to discuss gratitude. But I hope you will indulge me this Thanksgiving season because Guy’s death reminded me that we have so much to be thankful for, so may reasons to feel grateful.
I am thankful for the generous donors and supporters who help our students reach their dreams. We recently held our first-ever Bulls and Brews by the Bay, a fundraiser along our beautiful waterfront. We had a great turnout, with more than 260 people. We also raised enough money to be able to offer 10 times the number of scholarships from our USF St. Petersburg scholarship fund next year.
It was a wonderful event and very meaningful to me. I know firsthand the difference a scholarship can make in a student’s life. If you missed the event but are still interested in contributing to the success of a student, here is the link to donate.
I am thankful for our outstanding community partners and elected officials. Earlier this month, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch – a proud USF Bull – along with members of his administration and the St. Petersburg City Council hosted our students for Day at City Hall. We had a record number of students participate and they had a terrific time learning more about the inner workings of city government. They spent time speaking directly with Mayor Welch, attended two career panels tailored to their interests, were recognized at City Council and toured City Hall. What a tremendous opportunity, and how generous of our busy city employees to give their time and attention to our students.
In addition, we hosted Halloween Fest on our campus Oct. 27 along with our partners from the city of St. Petersburg and Bayfront Hospital. We had more than 650 participants, an overwhelming response!
There was trick-or-treating, face painting, crafts, a DJ, a costume contest and a scavenger hunt. The St. Petersburg Police even sent out the mounted police, although the horses seemed a little wary of our bull statue on Harbor Lawn. A special highlight was the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, where faculty and staff worked together to transform the building’s first floor into a “not-so-scary” haunted house. It was truly inspiring to see the campus and the community come together to provide a safe and fun place for children to celebrate this spooky holiday. And the creativity demonstrated – my goodness, it brought a smile to my face.
Finally, and most of all, I am thankful to work in a place where people genuinely care about each other. There’s been some research lately that says calling a workplace a “family” is overstated – maybe even harmful. But I have never worked in a place where people were so respectful, empathetic and compassionate. The differences of so many individuals are celebrated and leveraged for strength and unity. We inspire and support one another. With a focus on purpose and impact, USF St. Petersburg is truly special.
I know that the world can be dark and scary and challenging, particularly when good people are taken from us too soon. But this Thanksgiving and beyond, I’ll be sure to think of Guy and the love he had for USF St. Petersburg. That will make things a little brighter. And I promise to remember to wear my seat belt on the golf cart.
Christian Hardigree is Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.