Honoring dearly departed CWU community members

Honoring dearly departed CWU community members

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

CWU lost two cherished members of the staff and faculty between December and January: Shelley Spencer, office manager and assistant to the chair of the Engineering Technologies, Safety and Construction (ETSC) department and Dr. Stephanie Stein, chair of the Psychology department for over 20 years. The Observer interviewed their colleagues and friends on campus to honor their legacy in our community.

Shelley Spencer

Spencer passed away on Dec. 25 “while surrounded by her loving family,” according to an email sent by CWU President Jim Wohlpart. 

According to Spencer’s obituary, she was born in California, raised in Kent, Washington and later moved to Cle Elum in her teens where she graduated from high school. She pursued a degree in accounting from CWU.

Alex Lange, a friend and colleague of Spencer, said she formed a “sisterhood” with Spencer because they both survived cancer and supported each other on their health journeys. They both worked on the North end of campus as secretaries and would visit with each other often.

“From the moment I met Shelly when she was working at the travel desk, we just instantly struck up a friendship,” Lange said. “She was so easy to talk to … She had the ability to make kind of a difficult job, something good and something where she could create relationships with people. She was just such a wonderful person, she’d drop anything to help you.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies, Sathy Rajendran.

“My favorite thing about Shelley is that she was a great listener and a great friend,” Rajendran said. “When I started as Department Chair, some days are difficult as we say, leadership can be lonely and those times she was there to listen and support as my staff member. I miss her and can’t think of the ETSC Department without her in Hogue.”

According to ETSC Department Chair Greg Lyman, Spencer had a special way with numbers and students. 

“I liked her focus on the students,” Lyman said. “There was always a lot of work to do. She always had a lot of budget stuff she’s working on, and she really focused on when students came in and helping them out, giving them the right direction.”

Administrative Assistant in the office of the Provost Linda Huber confirmed that Spencer was quick to help others even when she didn’t have to. Huber told a story of Spencer volunteering her time to teach employees in other departments about the budget. 

”I got the pleasure of knowing Shelley for quite a while, probably over 20 years we worked together,” Huber said. “We both worked at the county before we moved to Central. We got to have many conversations about her children and her family. She always liked to share stories about her kids.”

According to the President’s email, “Shelley’s loving wife, Ann, and her two children, Sean and Alayna, were her greatest sources of happiness in life.” 

The family will be holding a celebration of life for Spencer in the Spring, and there is a memorial page for her through the Johnston and Williams Funeral Home website for those that wish to send condolences or flowers.

Dr. Stephanie Stein

Photo courtesy of CWU

Dr. Stephanie Stein, esteemed chair of the Psychology department for over two decades, passed away suddenly on Friday, Jan. 6 according to an email sent out by the Provost’s office. As her passing was so recent and unexpected, details and an obituary have yet to be released publicly. 

Associate Professor of Psychology Wendy Williams shared a passage she wrote memorializing Stein’s contributions to CWU and the lives of those around her. 

I have known Stephanie since 1995,” Williams wrote. “We were colleagues and friends. Stephanie was an exemplary Chairperson in psychology. She always kept the well-being of the department and the students at the forefront of her mind. She was respected and liked by her peers and by the administration at CWU.”

“As for me, I will miss my dear friend,” Williams continued. “We raised our children together; she was always the person I turned to for professional and parenting advice. She leaves a huge hole in our hearts. It has been my privilege to know Stephanie and to call her my friend.”

Academic Coordinator and Program Director of IDS-Social Sciences Alena Yastchenko said she had a unique relationship to Stein because Stein was her advisor as an undergraduate student in 1992. 

“As a student, I appreciated that she was willing to work with me with sorting out foreign university transfer credits, which are so messy and so challenging to figure out how they fit into Central,” Yastchenko said. “She was just really helpful and understanding.”

Yastchenko said Stein had a special approach to being in a leadership position.

“What I appreciated about Stephanie most is that she had this excellent balance between being empathetic, understanding and person-centered with both students and colleagues, but also knowing when to be directive, almost like unyielding … which is rare,” Yastchenko said. “She was never afraid to make tough choices, both in her personal life and in her work life. People responded to that and appreciated that, students and co-workers alike.”