A Castleton legend retires

When Victoria Angis first took her seat at then Castleton State College in July of 1980 as coordinator of Student Activities, she wanted her position to mean something to both her and the school—she wanted to leave her mark.

When then-President Tom Meyer asked her to lunch on the same afternoon, she knew this place was where she’d be able to do so.

“I was dumbstruck. The president of the university wants to take little old me to lunch?” Angis said with a sparkle in her eyes. “I thought if this is the way people are treated here, this is a good place. By welcoming me that day, he made me feel like an equal.”

Now, four decades and three titles later, Angis is officially preparing to leave her desk and the work she’s done here for the last time. On Oct. 29, she will be pursuing a new chapter in her life—retirement.

Finding her way

As an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, Angis recalls not really knowing her place as a student.

“I can remember the A’s that I got because there were so few of them—I can remember them very well,” Angis said with a laugh. “I can’t tell you how many times I changed my major, probably four.”

It wasn’t until she was invited to a student government meeting that things started to come together. She had been taking a business class that dealt with group dynamics and as she began putting together events, she realized just how good she was at it.

“It just made so much sense to me and it connected so well with what I was learning—and I got a lot of positive feedback because I was involved in putting on things that were fun,” Angis said.

Following her time in New Hampshire, Angis eventually moved to Massachusetts, where she was recommended for a job as assistant director of Operations at Fitchburg State University’s student union.

“While I had influence in the Campus Center [at Fitchburg], I only had influence in certain distinct areas. I wanted to be able to leave my mark—or at least have my voice heard in a wider context,” Angis said.

Four years later, a colleague who worked at Castleton State College recommended she apply for the position of coordinator of Student Activities/Director of the Campus Center.

And she was hired.

Leaving an impression

Wherever you are on Castleton campus, if you ask about Victoria Angis, you will receive no shortage of glowing accreditation. From creating Student Orientation and its staff as we know it, to renovating the Campus Center, to building the Green Campus Initiative, Angis has embodied, and ultimately defined, “The Castleton Way.”

Retired Academic Dean Joe Mark was hired to the campus within a week of Angis as the head of student activities back in 1980. After witnessing a disappointing freshman orientation, the two quickly realized there was work to be done and shortly after, orientation counselors were rebranded to Student Orientation Staff—SOS—and an overhaul of Castleton’s image began.

“The program quickly became much more constructive and positive,” Mark said. “I can’t talk about Victoria without saying she’s a hard worker. A lot of people might not have been able to do it that quickly, but she was able to change it almost overnight.”

As time went on, Angis continued to help both the university and its students flourish as she headed more programs and mentored students who were interested in the same kind of work she was doing as an undergrad.

“Victoria has always been a very supportive and caring woman. She invited me to be on the Student Wellness Task Force my sophomore year because I was president of Active Minds,” Castleton senior Allison Andrade said. “She really cares about the students and wants to hear from them directly on what could be done better on the campus. She’s a true advocate for the students and has the biggest heart around.”

Dennis Proulx, now the dean of Student Activities and Angis’ boss, was also once a student under her tutelage. While he was a member of SOS and a resident advisor, Angis taught him how to balance the aspirational nature of SOS with the more punitive side of being an RA. Proulx was also by her side to witness one of her favorite projects during her time here—the renovation of the Campus Center.

“[The Campus Center] has always been built off this idea of a union which goes beyond just a Campus Center. She is the one who brought that to us,” Proulx said. “The college store, the game room, the mailroom, the radio station—all those things could be somewhere else on campus. But 40 years of work to make sure they are not only collected, but maintained in a space that works, creates an environment that’re reflective of the national movement around college unions.”

The president at the time, Dave Wolk, put Angis in charge of the remodeling project that was revealed in September of 2009. Student government and administration, alike, agreed to invest $80 million in campus infrastructure at the time—almost $2 million of which went toward the campus center expansion.

See ‘Victoria Angis’ on page 6

“Victoria was always a great force for good and kept the well-being of students at the forefront,” Wolk said. “She did a great job including the students in planning, design, and the final product—just another example of including students on behalf of all students.”

Angis’ great appreciation for students and their right to gather in a uniquely designed space was clear when the Campus Center began development, but her connection to student unions goes far beyond that. Since 1972, Angis has been involved with the Association of College Unions International—an organization that represents student activity centers and unions across the globe. From Massachusetts to Colorado, and even England, Angis’ name is synonymous with a dedication to student activity.

“She didn’t impact only Castleton—which I think is what’s so special. People [talk about] the work she’s done here, but no, it’s the work she’s done for higher education,” Assistant Director of Student Activities James Wolfe said.

Wolfe, a 2019 graduate of Castleton, said his decision to stay and work at the university was in large part because of the passion he saw in Angis—who is and has been his mentor since he became a member of SOS in 2016. Wolfe also accredited his decision to stay at Castleton to and another previous mentee of Angis, Director of Student Activities, Matthew Patry.

“When I was an SOS leader there was a situation where I had left the keys that had been issued to me on my desk…One day I went to get the keys from the top of my desk and couldn’t find them. I took my desk completely apart looking for them,” Patry said. “Next thing I know, Victoria opens her desk drawer and pulls out my keys. Victoria handed them to me and said she was certain I would be more careful with them in the future. It was definitely a lesson learned!”

Director of the Wellness Center Martha Coulter acknowledged that Angis has a special ability to reach students–even if takes a little extra reinforcement. Coulter has witnessed first-hand Angis’ love for nurturing development and helping students become great leaders.

“I would never be able to name all of the programs Angis has been involved with, but I serve on some of them—the Student Life team, of course, but also the Disabilities Access Committee,” Coulter said. “She is completely dedicated to the students she works with and she is really interested in their growth, their leadership, and their future. And she follows them and keeps in touch with them and encourages them in their careers—long after they’ve left here,” Coulter said.

Others spoke about how the countless initiatives she has spearheaded for students have made for a more than welcoming environment: Every Woman has a Story for Women’s History month, a focus on Veteran inclusion, celebrating Black History Month, the Wellness Task Force, the list of attributions goes on and on.

“She’s so irreplaceable, but for some reason I’m not concerned about the future, and I guess it’s because she’s set such a good example for all of us,” Current Castleton President Jonathan Spiro said. “Whoever her successor is will be building on what she’s done, so I really think we’ll be fine.”

The next step

Though Angis may be closing the doors on the non-stop work in her role at Castleton, she doesn’t promise to slow down too much any time soon.

“Most of my friends who have retired before me say, ‘Don’t commit to anything for at least six months because you just need time to calm down and get into a routine,’ but I did already,” she said.

Her primary plans include continuing her work with the Fair Haven Historical Society and spending more time with her grandchildren. She also hopes to visit the Czech Republic with her husband, Bill, complete some overdue housekeeping, and get some more time with her favorite TV show—”Restaurant Impossible.”

“I like it because it’s a mix of fixing the people and the dynamics as much as it is fixing the systems and how the kitchen is laid out—so yeah, I guess it resonates with me a little bit,” she said.

Though she’s excited for the events her future holds, she lamented that the parting is bittersweet. Some days she looks forward to it, while others she thinks being at Castleton would make life a lot more interesting. She’ll miss the opportunity to start more programs and, most of all, the students.

“A few years after I first started here in the early 80s, there was this basketball player from New Jersey who would spend all his time in the game room—from, like, 11 o’clock in the morning until 10 at night. So, I asked him if he was going to class and he said ‘well, yeah, once in a while.’ I said no—you are not going to be here next semester and you are not going to be able to play basketball. And he listened to me. He became the Vice President of SGA, stuck with the basketball team, and he left Castleton and went into the Navy,” Angis said. “It wasn’t because I was special, it was because somebody noticed him and paid attention. That’s the kind of place Castleton is.”

Thank you

Of all the people Angis has worked closely with and of all the anecdotes they shared, each one wished to convey the same message—thank you. Angis has not only left Castleton with a legacy of her achievements, but also a version of the university far better than when she found it. She has made Castleton into the friendly, attentive, and loving environment that it is today.

“She totally deserves to have a life where she doesn’t have to worry about the next event. I wish her a worry-free happy retirement. You’ve given enough, don’t worry about us,” Spiro said.

If he had to describe her in a song, he said it would be Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock”—not so much for the lyrics necessarily, but because “she’s our rock, the rock we have relied upon.”

Wolfe hopes Angis has time to read in her retirement and that she continues “share her gifts with everyone around her.” The song he felt represented her is “Why Walk When You Can Fly,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

“All the issues in our society around race and gender and rights—’there’s trouble, there’s pain,’ but what she does is, ‘why take when you can give.’ She gives us the opportunity to learn about it and where to learn. She doesn’t just watch the world go by, she does something about it,” Wolfe said.

Mark hopes she is remembered fondly and that the school and its members realize the true debt of gratitude she is owed.

“It’s common to say about people who have been in an organization a long time that they’re leaving big shoes to fill. And, you know, I think that’s never been truer than in this case,” he said.

Though Proulx says he will miss his mentor, he too, wishes she gets everything out retirement that she wants.

“As we do the candlelight ceremony every year when students come through the gates,  we say ‘you make a difference in here before you go out the gates and make a difference in the world.’ I hope in her retirement that she walks through those gates and continues to make a difference in the world, knowing she made a difference here,” he said.

As a farewell to Angis and her career at Castleton, the university has created the Victoria Angis Legacy Campaign where individuals may make a gift contribution, participate in a birthday tribute video, or find information on the celebration event that will be held on her final day of work—Friday, Oct. 29.

Possibly the biggest thank you of all will be the ultimate dedication of the Campus Center’s informal lounge to Angis and her legacy—set to be renamed the Victoria Angis Informal Lounge.

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