From helping students navigate the admissions process to managing busy patient care offices and assisting faculty members with grant applications, staff members have played a critical role in serving the needs of students, faculty, patients, alumni and the campus and local community. Since Elsie Evers, Dean Darrel Mase’s longtime assistant who was there at the start of the college, staff members have formed the backbone of PHHP. These are just a few who have made lasting contributions to the college.
As someone who worked alongside every dean in the college’s history during her 36-year career at UF, there is perhaps no better witness to the college’s growth and impact than Linda Stallings.
“Gentle, calm, conscientious and caring, over the course of more than three decades, Linda served as a steadying force at the side of all five deans, providing each with unwavering support and sage advice, and playing a vital but often unseen role in advancing the mission of the college,” said PHHP Dean Michael G. Perri.
Stallings accepted a position as Darrel J. Mase’s secretary in 1972. She helped with the grant-funded Florida Manpower Study to determine workforce needs for health professionals, and she had the opportunity to watch Mase interact with deans and founders of schools of health professions, as well as national policymakers.
“The college was only 14 years old at that time and I couldn’t fully appreciate what Dean Mase had done for the country and the education of health professionals,” Stallings said.
After Mase’s retirement from the health science center, Stallings joined Dean Howard Suzuki’s staff. With each subsequent dean, she saw her responsibilities expand.
“I always said I didn’t have to leave the college for new positions as each dean provided enough change (and challenges) to make it interesting,” Stallings said.
In the 1980s, the challenges included learning how to use computers with no training or outside assistance, and supporting Dean Richard Gutekunst during a time of tough budget cuts. In the 1990s and 2000s, Dean Robert G. Frank continued Gutekunst’s push for increased research funding and he led the college in receiving approval to add public health programs. Frank’s big ideas kept things interesting, Stallings said.
“You’d go into work on Monday morning and wonder, ‘What did he think of this weekend?’” she said, laughing.
By the time she retired in 2008, Stallings was serving as the college’s associate director for medical/health administration, a role in which her encyclopedic knowledge of the college and university was put to excellent use. In retirement, she observes the college’s continual evolution.
“The college keeps growing and that’s a good thing,” she said.
Francisco “Paco” Vilallonga received the college’s first Employee of the Year award in 1983 to a standing ovation and praise as an employee who “will help you not in 10 minutes, not tomorrow, but right then and there.”
Vilallonga’s path to that recognition had been a long one. In his native Cuba, Vilallonga was employed with a successful company for 23 years, working his way up from accountant to the role of vice president of financial affairs. But when he and his family left in 1961 for Spain during the Cuban exodus, it was time to start over. They eventually made their way to Gainesville in 1967. Vilallonga’s first job on campus was sweeping floors in Shands Hospital.
As the college’s accountant from 1972 until his retirement in 1997, Vilallonga was known as a “resident computer” who quickly and accurately compiled and analyzed data. One of his proudest accomplishments was transitioning the college’s accounting from a manual operation to a fully computerized system. In 1988, the National Institute of Health’s Division of Research Resources honored Vilallonga for his work administering the NIH’s Scientific Review and Evaluation Award system.
“Paco was very helpful and eager to please everyone,” said Cheryl May, who served as Dean Gutekunst’s executive secretary. “He was a loyal and dedicated employee.”
Co-workers were also struck by his pride in working for the university and love for his adopted community.
“His love and dedication for our country and flag is infectious,” May said.
Now 98, Vilallonga says that throughout his life he has lived by the motto, “It does not cost anything to say ‘hello’ to anyone.” This approach has led to many cherished lifelong friendships with UF and UF Health Shands Hospital colleagues.
Janice Ogwada, office manager for the UF Psychology Clinic in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, is the college’s longest-serving staff member. Since she joined the clinic staff in 1992 as a financial assistance counselor, Ogwada has been the heart of the clinic, said Glenn Ashkanazi, Ph.D., clinical associate professor in the department, head of the medical/health area and Ogwada’s former supervisor.
“Like a heart, Janice keeps the clinic moving and in business,” he said. “But also like a heart, she is the center of its warmth and caring for others. For the staff who work with her, the many trainees who have relied on her and the thousands of patients that she has comforted and helped, Janice keeps the rhythm of clinic operations beating.”
Indeed, helping patients is one of the most satisfying aspects of her job, Ogwada said.
“I enjoy being the point person for patients who are a little bit more complicated than others,” she said. “After talking with them, 99 percent of the time I feel they know I care. Whatever their attitude was before we spoke, it’s different when we hang up the phone. To me, that’s very rewarding.”
In her 26 years with the department, Ogwada has helped the clinic transition from pen and paper scheduling through three different computerized systems, a clinic location move, a large increase in the number of psychologists, doctoral students and postdoctoral associates, and at least triple the number of patients.
Despite the fast-paced environment, Ogwada says she has never experienced a morning when she didn’t want to come to work. The support she receives from her co-workers and their confidence in her abilities has made all the difference.
“I never really thought about going anywhere else because it seemed like a place where you are really appreciated,” said Ogwada, who plans to retire next year. “It has made me want to give all I have for the department.”