23, No. 3, Aug. 7, 2003
On the job: Pat Ridinger
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
<strong>Photo by L. Brian Stauffer</strong><hr /><br />
Proctor, professor, speech & hearing science, with graduate
students Mary Ratliff (at left, seated) and Mary Newman (at
right, seated). With some fo the testing equipment used to
evaluate coginitive abilities of those who have suffered
from brain injuries.
by Bill Wiegand
has worked in the Division of Housing for 23 years.
In May 2003,
when Pat Ridinger, assistant director for assignments, Family and Graduate
Housing Office, received a phone call from Vice Chancellor Patricia
Askew telling her she had won the Student Services Outstanding Staff
Award, Ridinger’s response was, “Are you sure you have the
right person?” Acquaintances and colleagues who have not seen
Ridinger in a while are equally astonished, she says. Since having bariatric
surgery in June 2002, Ridinger has dropped 185 pounds and about seven
clothing sizes. Ridinger says she now feels like a different person
and has rediscovered activities such as walking, bicycling and shopping
that were too tiring or difficult for her to do when she was heavier.
Tell me about your career here at the university.
I have been at the university for 27 years, and I’ve been in this
office for 23 years. I started with Extra Help, which was then known
as ‘Illini Girls.’ I was at the personnel office for about
a year. I then went to Visual Aids, which is now known as the film center,
where I repaired 8 mm film. I started in the housing office at Orchard
Downs as the receptionist. When my supervisor retired in the early 1990s,
I took over her job.
When I began work in housing, we typed all the leases. Now it’s
computerized, and it’s so much easier. We have online applications
for the students, and it has really saved a lot of work in our office.
I love what I do, and working with such a great diverse community has
been rewarding and satisfying.
What are your responsibilities now?
I do all the assignments for approximately 800 apartments at Orchard
Downs and about 200 at Goodwin and Green. I am in charge of putting
all the new residents in their homes, overseeing office procedures,
supervising and hiring staff and problem solving in unique situations.The
majority of our residents are married graduate students but we also
have some singles, single parents, visiting scholars and postdocs. We
also started accommodating domestic partnerships this year.
Ten of our apartments have been turned into short-term guest housing
for campus visitors who are only going to be here a few days or a week.
The apartments are like hotel rooms, and linens and televisions are
provided. We’re going to be turning six more apartments into short-term
guest housing too.
What is unique about Orchard Downs?
We have so many different cultures here. We have over 70 countries represented
at Orchard Downs, and they’re just a great bunch of people. It’s
like a world in one little community.
We have a lot of programs for our international spouses, like cooking,
child care and health care. We also have a multicultural health-care
center and after-school programs for children. We also have a cooperative
What’s kept you here so long?
I like my job; it’s not the same humdrum routine day after day.
I communicate with people from all over the world. Because of computers,
sometimes it's like we know each other before they arrive on campus.
I like all the staff members and everybody gets along well; we're like
one big family. We have a new director, Ana Hernandez, who’s been
here about a year and a half, and she’s doing a fabulous job.
She likes the word ‘fabulous,’ so be sure you put ‘fabulous’
in there for her.
A couple of the international students who worked in our office, another
lady and I rented a van and drove to Washington, D.C., together in the
early 1980s to visit another former graduate student who was doing her
internship there. She was able to show us around, and we had a good
time. It's great to be able to form lasting friendships with our international
What kinds of hobbies or other interests
do you have?
My husband Paul and I like to go camping. We just purchased a new fifth-wheel
trailer, and we take two of our three dogs with us. One has to stay
home and guard the house. We went up to Nappanee, Ind., around the Amish
area recently. We met a lot of great people while we were there: a lot
of Texans and Californians. I also like to flower garden; my husband
does the vegetable gardening. My husband farms about 350 acres, and
I’ve been a farm girl all my life so I enjoy helping him when
I can. We have a son who also works here in housing and a 9-year-old
What prompted you to have bariatric surgery?
I had done the liquid fast and lost close to 100 pounds but put all
the weight back on. I decided that at my age and size I was either going
to have an accident or a heart attack. I had thought about the surgery
for a long time but didn’t want to go to Chicago or St. Louis
to get it done. When I heard that it was available here, I went to the
support group meeting and got signed up.
I am so glad I did it. At first, I had no energy, but then my doctor
figured out that I wasn’t getting enough protein. Now every morning
I eat a protein bar and a cup of coffee for breakfast. The surgery made
my stomach about the size of an egg. If I overeat or eat something with
too much sugar, it makes me sick because the way my stomach is restructured
it doesn’t have time to absorb it.
Since your surgery, what’s been
the biggest change for you?
I have been told how much happier, more energetic and full of life I
am since my surgery. I used to have our program director do my Christmas
shopping for me. Now I love going to the malls and buying new clothes
and shoes. My husband says he can’t keep me at home!