Memories of Closeness and Change - Sheryl Bain
Sheryl Bain started at the Denver Center in 1970 as an Admissions and Records clerk before becoming assistant to the CLAS dean. During almost 30 years in that position, she enjoyed the homey closeness of the Denver Center and early CU Denver, waded into the new challenges of Auraria, and played a part in the great changes that swept the university.
Bain’s early memories revolve around the familial environment of the Tramway Building, whose denizens worked and played closely together. “On our lunch hours, we played bridge in the faculty-staff lounge on the eighth floor,” she says. “We had up to four tables—faculty, staff, and administrators. It was a lot of fun.” Coworkers also congregated during breaks and after work at the Frontier Hotel’s bar, Reece’s Coffee House (at 14th and Curtis Streets), and Harmony Farms Pies (at 15th and Curtis). They organized arts and crafts shows in the Tramway Building’s lobby. And they shared libations at the chancellor’s annual holiday parties. “Some people didn’t like straight punch, so Shirley [Konkel, another assistant to the CLAS dean] or I would put a bottle of vodka in the desk drawer, and people would help themselves to it,” says Bain.
Intramural sports also brought the campus together, under the guidance of physical education professor Gerald Carlson. “At first only men were on the teams, until a group of women approached Gerry and asked if they could participate,” says Bain.
It finally was decided the teams had to have a woman player. We then played flag football, basketball, and softball at Congress Park with students, faculty, and staff. People like Dick Stevens, Terry and Gerry Audesirk, Sam Betty, Corky Strandberg, Max Morstad, and Mark Foster. In softball Sam Betty and I were in the outfield for two reasons: no one ever hit the ball that far, and we could drink a beer while we played. It was a fun time, and everyone who wanted to participate could.
There were of course many challenges during the early days as well. After CU Denver became independent in 1973, the university’s staff was transferred from CU’s personnel system to the state’s system. “Those were trying times,” recalls Bain. “There were new pay grades and steps, and we had to go through a huge process to determine classifications at the university. At the end of the first fiscal year, Shirley Konkel stayed until midnight with assistant vice president Paul Bartlett to find out what raises our staff would get. It turned out to be something like $6.90 a year. We weren’t very high on the totem pole, but everybody treated us nicely, and eventually things got better under the state.” Even the staff dress code loosened up. “At first female staff—not faculty—had to wear a dress and heels,” says Bain. “Later Bob Graham decided that pant suits were OK. The dress code went away entirely after miniskirts appeared.”
Bain was not just affected by changes at the university—she helped shape them. Elected to the Staff Council, she represented her fellow staff to the CU administration and Colorado legislature. “We discussed things that were impacting people’s jobs, how state personnel rules were being implemented, what the legislature was doing,” says Bain. “We learned about lobbying and legislative processes. I remember representing staff concerns to Senator Ted Strickland, who was chair of the Joint Budget Committee.” Bain also served on the Statewide Liaison Council of Higher Education Classified Staff, including several years as its president. “We talked about the impact of different governing boards, the best regent candidates, how to change the state personnel system, PERA [Public Employees’ Retirement Association of Colorado], and legislation affecting staff,” she says. In the 1980s she served on a state blue-ribbon committee on higher education.
Bain stayed with CLAS as the university grew, matured, and moved onto the Auraria campus. “CLAS moved about every 10 years, from the Tramway Building , to one of the 9th Street historic houses, to the Dravo Building [which became the CU Denver Building], and then to the North Classroom Building,” she says. Bureaucracy flourished at Auraria. “Just to send out bids for new science equipment we had to go through the state purchasing department and AHEC, and then we had to go through the same process again to pay the bills,” she remembers. “I personally ran the paperwork around on foot to make the deadlines. At the same time we started making students jump through more hoops. There were budget hearings, bigger departments fighting for resources. Shirley [Konkel] couldn’t move classes around easily anymore. You could understand it, but it was sad to see it happening. We lost the closeness. It became like a business.” She also regrets how the Auraria campus pushed out former residents and the area’s homeless.
In the midst of all this change, Bain held onto what she cared about at CU Denver. “As we went from a family feeling to a big bureaucracy we tried to preserve the quality of the place, the good education. We had to fight all the other forces like AHEC, CCHE, and the regents. The faculty was always awesome. They cared about students and learning. We grew and we kept meeting the needs of Denver. I’m proud of that.” After she retired in 1997, the regents awarded her a medal for service to the university.
Jarett Zuboy is a CU Denver graduate student in history and a freelance technical writer.