Bodell retires, leaves legacy of tolerance

Penny Bodell adds her artistic touch to “We Are One” — the diversity mural located in the A Building.

Penny Bodell truly embodies the values MCCC holds dear, as her friends and colleagues will attest.

 “She was an outstanding assistant,” says Vice President of Student and Information Services Randy Daniels. “Very talented, very organized; a pleasure to work with. I was extremely sad to see her go. She’s an exemplary individual, and I consider her a good friend.”

Bodell was Daniels’ administrative assistant before retiring at the beginning of February after a 32-year stint at the college.

“Big shoes to fill, for sure!” says Ann Gerweck, Bodell’s replacement. “She was at times a mentor to me, and still a good friend. Very good friend. I know if I ever needed anything, she’s there for me.”

Tom Ryder, the college’s events and student activities coordinator, can’t quite get the words out when asked what he liked about Bodell.

“The reason I’m stumbling with that question a little bit is because Penny had so many good attributes,” he said, smiling. “Penny was always very friendly, always very helpful, knowledgeable. Great colleague and friend."

“Penny and I came up under the same leadership. So we had kind of the same philosophies and ideologies on how the college should be run and how it should operate. How you treat students and things like that,” he said. “It was always nice to have someone with the same thought processes as you to talk to and to vent to.”

“We met when I first got here about five-and-a-half years ago,” said Melissa Grey, associate professor of Psychology and co-adviser to the MCCC Gay-Straight Alliance.

“I think she left very big shoes to fill,” Grey said. “I think she did a fantastic job organizationally and keeping everything ship-shape. She was also such a force for positivity and sowing strength in the students, both as a group and as individuals.”

Bodell was the GSA adviser for three years. She said before her involvement there wasn’t much done with the club. It was just a place to gather.

Her reason for taking over is a noble one.

“I really had a passion for equality, making a difference,” she said. “My life had been touched by many individuals who I felt were treated unfairly due to some diverse issue, whether it was racial, religious, LGBTQ.”

“I just felt strongly about helping out in that area and trying to bring that to the forefront of the community college. To let students know that they had a safe place there, they were welcome there, that it didn’t really matter who you were or how you felt about things.”

She admits trying to do that was a challenge and a lot of hard work, but she is glad she did.

Under Bodell, the GSA organized events for the Transgender Day of Remembrance and World AIDS Day, held several Pride Proms and a candlelight vigil for suicide awareness.

It  also was responsible for the diversity mural in the A-Building, between the registrar’s office and the campus bookstore.

“That was quite a project, and such an enjoyable project, too!” Bodell said. “It was great. We had a contest, people entered the contest with their ideas of what the mural should look like, we let the community choose, then we brought it to life!"

“It’s one of the first things you see when you walk in, and it’s entitled ‘We Are One,’” she said. “I’m very proud of that. That was a wonderful addition to the college.”

The GSA was the only club Bodell advised, but she said she regrets not being able to establish an art club.

But being the administrative assistant to the vice president of Student and Information Services kept Bodell busy.

“Well, obviously, I assisted the vice president in all of his daily duties,” she said. “If there was any kind of a problem with a student, unless it was directly related to something with the instructor, we dealt with all those issues.”

These included academic dishonesty, issues involving transcripts, and more.

The impetus behind her decision to retire was an emotional one.

“Well, the original thing was, about a year-and-a-half ago – actually, it’ll be two years this May – my brother-in-law passed away at 60 years old,” she said.
“It just brought such awareness to us that life is short – you just never know.

“So we decided, while we can, let’s just retire and enjoy ourselves.”

She is quick to clarify that it wasn’t anything to do with a dissatisfaction with her job.

“Not that I wasn’t enjoying myself by working, but when you’re on somebody else’s timeclock, it really does hold you back,” she said.

Another factor was her 88-year-old mother-in-law, Penny adds. Being more or less all the woman has left, Penny and her husband felt they should make her life happier, too.

Plans for travelling and plenty of golf games are on the itinerary, she said.

Before working at the college, Penny was a computer operator at Monroe Bank and Trust.

It was at this job that she decided to come to work at the college.

“I had a friend who worked at the college, and she worked in the computer area,” she said.

“She called me to let me know a position was open and told me how great the college was to work for.”

There was another reason she took the job at the college, aside from her friend’s pitch.

“I was engaged to my husband now, and he worked there, and I knew the chances of both of us getting promoted were quite slim,” she said. “And, as you well know, back in that day women were rarely promoted.

“So I thought, ‘Well, this is my chance to bring something up.’ I’m real glad I went, too. It was a great opportunity.”