“The greatest part was to see how
Irene T. Cole worked at Holy Cross for 24 years.
For the last 16 years, as the administrative assistant to
the dean of the College, she was in a unique position to
observe the evolution of the faculty, the curriculum, and
the academic reputation of the College. Jack O’Connell
sat down to reminisce with Irene during her last week before
retirement. As she cleared out files and packed up mementos,
she recalled her arrival on the Hill.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: Chicopee, Mass. Out in the western part of the state.
Q: How did you end up in Worcester?
A: My husband’s business brought us here.
Q: Were you
aware of Holy Cross before you came to Worcester?
A: Very definitely. You know the bench out front dedicated
to the memory of Edward J. McDonald? Well, the McDonald
family lived on my block growing up, so I heard quite a
bit about Holy Cross. Then, of course, my husband is an
alumnus. Frank J. Cole, class of ’53.
Q: What year
did you start working at Holy Cross?
A: In 1974. My youngest was in first grade at that point.
My first position was in the dean’s office as a receptionist.
Fr. Fahey was the dean.
Q: Did you stay in the dean’s
A: No, I was only in the dean’s office for two years.
Then there was an opening in the visual arts department and
I moved there for seven years. At that point I was ready
to work full time rather than the academic year, so I went
to work for Dr. Toth in the counseling center. Six months
after that, in 1982, my current position opened up.
you’ve been in the same position from 1982 until
1998. A lot of changes have happened during this time and
you’ve been in a great position to see many of them.
From your perspective, what have been some of the biggest
A: I suppose the biggest one was having served under the
first lay dean, Frank Vellaccio. When I started it was Fr.
Schroth and then Dean Vellaccio and then Dean Kee.
was the most fun thing about the position?
A: It’s a serious office, dealing with serious issues,
but there have been many, many light moments. Having worked
for Frank Vellaccio for 10 years, he kept me laughing. The
greatest part was to see how things happen. How someone walks
into the office one day with an idea and it gets discussed
and bandied about and it grows and goes to committee and
it becomes something. The First-Year Program, for instance.
Q: You saw that program take off from the ground up.
A: To see how these things happen and to be part of these
discussions for 10 years has been very exciting. I attended
the Educational Policy Committee meetings to take minutes
and that’s where these topics get discussed and decided.
You really see the mechanics of how the educational system
of the campus works.
Q: It would seem that today, as opposed
to the ’70s,
there are so many more specialized academic programs and
interdisciplinary programs. Students have more options. Things
have mushroomed over the past 15 years.
A: There’s no question. Especially when I hear my husband
talk about his days as a student, landing in a course because
his name began with a “C.”
Q: In terms of faculty,
A: Oh, yes! There have been some wonderful people. I don’t
want to single anyone out because I’d slight so many
others, but Ed Callahan comes to mind immediately — he
used to buy his cars from my husband. Steve (Ainlay) was
a great friend even before he became dean. Some I became
close to when they served on the CTP (Committee for Tenure
and Promotion), because everything goes through our office.
So you’re meeting with these people and they’re
going through very stressful times.
Q: That must be a difficult
committee to be involved with in terms of the hard choices
to be made and the consequences
of those choices.
A: It’s where you really see what people are like,
never mind their discipline or scholarship. You see what
the real person is like. There are so many great people – Chick
Weiss, Mark Freeman, Jim Kee. Interesting and warm people.
Susan Rogers. Karen Turner. Terri Priest. They all became
Q: Let’s talk about the tenure process.
I would guess this was one of the more intensive and difficult
of the job.
A: It can be difficult when someone is denied tenure. Even
though I was always aware that the committee has a procedure
to follow and is doing its job, it can be stressful. I always
felt part of that process because I would give the candidate
the tenure report. When things went well, it was always delightful
and people would come back to me and thank me for the way
I handled the process. They always said they could never
tell when they came in for their report whether it was good
or bad. Sometimes you’d see them start to tear the
envelope open before they left the office and you’d
think, please don’t do that here. But most would head
back to their offices and lock the door before reading the
Q: Any unusual or anecdotal moments you recall as
you start to finish up your last week?
A: Oh, yes, especially as I’ve been going through the
files. Having my daughter (Mary Elizabeth Curnen ’89)
here as a student was delightful. I loved those four years.
She graduated in ’89. She met her husband here.
When she was a student here and you were working in the dean’s
office, did you get together on campus or did you keep her
student life separate?
A: (laughing) She lived on campus and she certainly had her
own life, but she had a key to my car! I remember one night
leaving the office to get the car and it wasn’t there.
I searched all over and Frank Vellaccio — I just love
the man! — he was at a meeting. Gary Phillips and I
were looking for Marybeth. We came through Hogan and Frank
was at a meeting and he saw us and came out and said, “What’s
the problem?” He left the meeting and started searching
with me. We found the car and Marybeth! — “Oh,
I forgot to tell you, Mom, I borrowed it! Were you worried?” But
it’s hard to pick one moment, because it’s been
such a wonderful time.