Boyd reflects on a career in Mendenhall

When Kay Boyd started working at East Carolina University in September 1973, Mendenhall Student Center wasn’t even quite complete. Her first job was answering calls at the switchboard, where the building’s calls were routed.

“I had to answer all the calls,” she said. “Sometimes I had to page people whose phones weren’t hooked up yet.”

Boyd had a lot to learn, and fast.

“People were asking me where Wright was, or the bookstore, and I didn’t know because I’d never set foot on campus before in my life,” Boyd said. “Sometimes I would just go out and take a tour of campus so I could learn how to tell people where things were.”

In some buildings, including Mendenhall, finding the building was only the start.

“A lot of people say this, and it can be true — it’s like a maze in here. You can get turned around,” she said.

Originally encompassing 80,000 square feet of assignable space, Mendenhall was built for $3.5 million. Subsequent renovations and new wings added to the difficulty of finding a particular office, suite or conference room.

In January, when the new student center opens on 10th Street, Mendenhall will still house a number of offices and departments, but it will no longer be the central hub of student life on ECU’s campus.

Boyd said much has changed in Mendenhall in the years she has worked there. Offices have been moved around and reshuffled more times than she can count, and the technology has changed, too. The switchboard is long gone.

Scrapbook page from a previous student

Boyd keeps a scrapbook of letters and photos of the students she has worked with.

“For a long time before we had computers, we used typewriters,” she said. “I remember when I had to learn to use the computer; I didn’t think I could do it. But I learned how.”

She also recalled that before there was a copier in the building, she had to go to the library to make copies — and the library billed her office for the service.

In 1979, Boyd left the switchboard and took on a clerical role with the Student Activities Board, then called the Student Union. The board is responsible for a wide range of programming on campus, and Boyd said she helped the students with whatever they needed to bring speakers, bands and comedians to campus.

“I became sort of a mom to them, and I enjoyed working with them,” she said. “There were a lot of friendships, and I’d hate to see them graduate, but it’s great seeing what they’re doing now that they’re grown.”

She’s even had former students who have stopped in to say hi when they came back to campus to bring their own child to freshman orientation.

“Kay was the rock,” said Stephen Gray, who was the director of student activities when he worked with Boyd. Today he’s the director of disability support services. “Every student that came through those doors could only say good things about her.”

Boyd has helped with Barefoot on the Mall since it started. She recalls burying a time capsule in the late ’90s as part of the event. Gray said the capsule contains a computer, letters from the students to their future counterparts, and flyers and other items from Barefoot on the Mall. It will be opened after 50 years.

Working with the SAB, Boyd has helped bring major performers to ECU.

“We had John Mayer when he was up and coming, Widespread Panic,” she said. “Back in the ’70s we had Jimmy Buffett, Charlie Daniels, we had the Allman Brothers.”

Boyd retired from her full-time job with the SAB in 2004 but came back on a part-time basis, reviewing contracts for the performers coming to campus. “I go through and redline things we absolutely cannot do,” she said. “You’d be surprised some of the things people ask, that I have to mark through.”

The new student center is designed to accommodate all the events and activities students have enjoyed in Mendenhall, and more. Gray said he was part of a group of employees tasked with brainstorming for the new student center 15 years ago.

“We threw ideas around, like the ballroom and what was needed for programming,” he said. “To see it coming together next door is really incredible.”

For Boyd, it wasn’t originally her intention to move over to the new building.

“I always said I would retire by then, but it’s sort of crept up on me,” she said. “I’m going to keep working as long as my health allows. My son said they’d have to carry me out on a stretcher to get rid of me.”

She’s kidding, but the truth is that she’s outlasted Mendenhall, at least in its role as ECU’s student center. And for the students she’s helped along the way, that’s a good thing.

Kay Boyd

Boyd spent most of her career working with the Student Activities Board, helping bring speakers, bands and comedians to perform on campus.