From Bruce Hornsby and the Range to the 2000 Presidential Debate, and from a small hallway office in Reynolda Hall to the new and spacious Benson University Center, Gale Newport has seen a lot of exciting events and changes during the last 25 years. She’s officially operations manager for the Benson University Center, but many know her as the cake lady or the helpful person who schedules thousands of events in the Benson Center each year.
What do you do?
While my main duty is to take care of Benson (liaison with Facilities/Campus Services, housekeeping, food service) to ensure it is running smoothly, I spend as much time (or more) on scheduling. It has evolved from a black notebook in Reynolda Hall (reserving the “East Lounge” and a very few meeting rooms in Reynolda), to an excellent software program (EMS) currently in use. We average over 5,000 events in Benson on a yearly basis. I focus on the larger rooms, and all special events in Benson, and also schedule numerous outdoor venues, the Reynolda Hall Green Room, the President’s Garage and the START Gallery in Reynolda Village.
Describe some of the changes you’ve seen over the last 25 years?
When I started in 1986 the Student Union was located in Room 123 in Reynolda Hall. There was a small lounge/work area for the students and two offices – one for Mary Gerardy and one for me. When Mark Hall (WFU grad and former SU president) was hired as Mary’s assistant director, I wound up (literally) in the hallway outside their offices. But, it all worked.
The students were as dedicated then as they are now to providing top-notch programming (about 50 events + nightly movies in 1986/87 versus 200 events + week-end movies this current academic year). I sold the tickets to their events, the first one being Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Pretty exciting, and scary when I had to meet with their agent to balance the ticket sales.
The SU now has a larger office space (finally) and the students volunteer their time and talents to provide programming of interest to all – concerts, lectures, aWake All Night, Shag on the Mag, cake decorating short courses, to name just a few.
When Mary moved up the ladder, Paul Orser became my boss, then Mark Hall and Joanna Iwata, and my current boss is James Buckley.
Do you enjoy working with students?
It has been such a pleasure to work with the students over all these years. The tough part is saying good-bye to them each May. But, I still hear from some of them… always fun to see how they are doing as grown-ups. I don’t interact as much with the SU students now, since my job duties are more building focused. But I do work with some great student employees. I have two students who assist me with scheduling, and what a difference that has been for me. I supervise 11 guys on the set-up crew who work every day setting up (and breaking down) the rooms you all meet in. I feel as though I have 11 more sons… helping them with their work, giving some Mom advice along the way.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love working in Benson, seeing all the familiar faces everyday; working on a special event from start to successful finish; and interacting with a wonderful group of folks in my office.
What’s one of the highlights of your time here?
There have been so many, but I think I would choose the 2000 Presidential Debate. Benson was used as the media center and I don’t think I have ever worked so hard. But it was absolutely thrilling to see history in the making right here at Wake Forest. It amazed me to see how the whole building was totally converted. The storage room that usually housed tables and chairs was even made over into a press room; the fitness level (now Residence Life and Housng) was turned over to the Bush group, and 409/410 to Gore. I still have some of the media notepads, and of course, my pass allowing me to come and go. It was exciting to walk past Tom Brokaw on the Quad, and to have a conversation with the front man for Al Gore.
Where did you grow up?
I spent my first 20 years in Bridgeport, Mich., a small town about 90 miles north of Detroit. I loved growing up there, and attending Western Michigan University, only three hours away in Kalamazoo, Mich.
How did you end up at Wake Forest?
When I married we lived in Iowa while my husband was in law school, then coast to coast after he received his commission in the Navy (Iowa, Rhode Island, California, South Carolina, Illinois). After my husband left the Navy, we lived in Illinois, and then moved here for his new job. My youngest son was in kindergarten, so I decided I needed to find a part-time job, which led me to Wake Forest and Mary Gerardy, first WFU boss and forever friend.
I am lucky to have two families. I have two wonderful sons – Brian is 33 and lives in Chapel Hill, having graduated from and now working for UNC-CH as General Government Group Manager in the School of Government. Michael is 30 and was recently promoted to Special Events Director for the Parizade Restaurant in Durham. My dog, Bailey, keeps me busy at home.
My second family is here at Wake Forest, and their love has been displayed in many ways over the years. My husband passed away in 1987, and Mary, Mark and the SU kids wrapped their arms around me and my boys. They would scoop up the boys (then 7 and 10) and take them to Wake football and basketball games, movies, out to dinner, or to just hang out with them. The times they spent with the boys helped to shape them into the fine men they have become.
While co-workers have come and gone, it pleases me to still be in touch with many of them. I could not ask for better co-workers/friends than those I have now. We work hard in our small office, but take the time to know each other, and to be there when needed. Before my mother passed away last fall she had lived in an assisted living facility here for three years. My co-workers were there for me, lifting my spirits with words of encouragement and group therapy at Mi Pueblo for lunch! And for my birthday in December they gave ME a cake, along with a wonderful “things we like about you” story. How lucky am I.
A lot of people know you for your delicious cakes; what else do you do when you’re not working?
I am an avid reader thanks to my mother, and now my house is full of her books too. I enjoy scrapbooking, having finished a few years ago a 100+ year history of my family. It took quite a while and was a labor of love. But, it was so worth it. The book has passed from one family to another, currently with my brother in Charlotte. I recently finished four years as president of my homeowner’s association and am happy to be just a board member now. My travels now are pretty basic, but a wonderful respite when I go to Michigan every summer to spend time with my sister. My dream trip(s)…to take the Orient Express across Europe and a cruise to Alaska.
What’s your dream job?
I have always thought it would be fun to own a small bookstore, complete with a scrapbooking section, and small café area where folks can browse around, then enjoy a piece of Gale cake!