A small decision can make a large impact. Just ask Tammy Walters ‘80, Olivet College alum, employee and donor. She agreed to temporarily fill a job vacancy at Olivet’s Housing department, something she expected would only last for a season or so. She ended up in the position for nearly 20 years.
Of course, that wasn’t Tammy’s only experience at Olivet. When she was just a high schooler in Delton, Olivet’s small size was appealing to her. She was very active as a student, participating in sports and several extracurricular events. She found outlets for her interests at Olivet, and she felt that it was a place where she could be noticed and make a difference.
Most of all, Tammy was interested in Olivet’s journalism program. That helped her make the decision to enroll, and she started attending classes in 1976. She majored in communications, with a concentration in public relations. Tammy joined the Sigma Beta sorority, forming connections that would last for decades.
Tammy was impressed with how much interest professors showed in her college career. “Dr. Willis Selden was my mentor,” she recalled. “He was amazing and taught me that I could pursue whatever goal I wanted. He also taught me that, in journalism, truth and honesty are incredibly important.” Given her interest in journalism, it seemed natural that she would forge such a strong connection with a journalism professor. Less expected was the impression that biology professor Dr. Speare left on her. Even though her major and career interests were far removed from biology, Dr. Speare helped instill a strong work ethic in Tammy. “I knew he would call on me every class period, so I better know my stuff! He also made me sit up front.”
After graduating from Olivet in 1980, Tammy worked for small publications. She balanced work with raising two sons. She remained connected with the college, largely due to her sorority relationships. In 1990, she returned to Olivet, finding work with audio and visual equipment. She got a job in the mail room shortly afterward. Professionally, she was trying to “put in (her) time,” as she said it, hoping to take on positions with more responsibility.
She moved on to Conferences and Scheduling in 1992. A few years later she learned of a temporary vacancy in the Housing department. A natural fit, Tammy ended up working in Housing for nearly 20 years. The job gave her more direct interaction with students. “I communicated with new and returning students regarding their housing, I enforced housing policies and matched up roommates,” Tammy recalled.
In 2014, Tammy moved to the Physical Plant. There, she manages student employees, works with finances and helps coordinate several of Olivet’s events and programs.
Tammy believes that maintaining a strong connection to your past is a valuable part of life. “Giving back is important. Being a member of a community and investing in that community is important. Never forget where you came from or how hard you worked to get where you are. Don’t forget to thank those that helped you.” Olivet gave her great opportunities, and she wanted to ensure it could do so for future generations. As an employee, she has seen the positive impact the college has had on many students, including her sons.
She also keeps in touch with Sigma Beta. She spent more than a decade as an adviser to its sisters. “I am kind of a link between old and new,” Tammy said. “It’s an amazing way to connect the past to the present.” Her connection with the sorority goes beyond any professional or volunteer position, however. She still meets up with her sisters, many of whom are her closest friends, and just recently returned from a trip with several that she has known since their undergraduate days.
Deciding to Give
Tammy certainly gave back to Olivet with her time and energy. But in the early ‘90s, not long into her employment at the college, she felt a desire to do more. That’s when she made another decision: donate what she could to Olivet. Others in her situation may have put off giving until they were working their “dream job,” but Tammy knew what she wanted to do, and saw no reason to wait. Experiencing Olivet as an employee had given her a new perspective. She had a greater understanding of the college’s many needs. She also gained a new appreciation for Olivet’s importance to its community.
Tammy is also a firm believer in the Olivet College mission of individual and social responsibility. “It’s seeing what needs to be done and doing it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if that is picking up trash, reminding someone that they did not clean out the van or praising a student for their good work.”
And when deciding to support the college financially, she saw a need to support Olivet’s community service programs. Community service and volunteering have always been a part of Tammy’s life, and she believes it’s important for students to experience services opportunities in other communities, states and countries. “It gives you a sense that there is a broader world out there. Everyone is not the same nor do they live under the same circumstances. It helps to break down barriers and give you a clearer sense of what is beyond your back door.”
She observed that, while the college was always involved with the community, the amount of programs and their scope only grew over time. According to Tammy, the school has considerably more focus on community service now than it did when she first set foot on campus in the mid-‘70s. That trend is something she decided to help along.
Tammy knows that donating can seem like an intimidating commitment, but she encourages everyone interested in Olivet to give, regardless of amount. “Olivet College came from humble beginnings, and we are the first to understand that not everyone is able to give the same amount,” she said. “The reality is that every dollar adds up.”
-By Reed Kalso