Carol Higley Looks Back on 40 Years at St. Bonaventure University

Carol Higley (pictured) will retire on May 12 after nearly 40 years of working at St. Bonaventure University. Credits: Jason Klaiber

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY—When Carol Higley first stepped onto the second floor of St. Bonaventure University’s Reilly Center in August 1977, she felt ready to begin work as the assistant to the Rev. Brennan Fitzgerald, OFM, the director of student activities at the time. However, she received little assistance settling into her new job.   

“I didn’t know where my office was,” said Higley. “There was nobody to show me around. I kind of found my own way.”

She found her way so well, in fact, that since that day, Higley, now 74, never considered leaving St. Bonaventure for a job elsewhere.

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Previously, she had worked as a secretary in the dean of women’s office at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, in advanced market development at glass manufacturer Corning Inc., in the classified advertising department at the Olean Times Herald and in plastics at consumer goods company Dexter HYSOL.        

Learning how to communicate with others within her prior working environments helped prepare Higley for her duties at St. Bonaventure, she said.

As the assistant to the director of student activities, Higley oversaw the assignments of student employees, the creation of brochures and school calendars and the promotion of campus events and ticket sales. She also expressed hospitality to campus visitors, including a number of notable performers and lecturers invited to the university over the past five decades.

On April 25, 1987, in the hours before singer-songwriter Don McLean’s scheduled concert on a grassy area beside the Reilly Center, Higley borrowed an RV from an Allegany musician for temporary use as McLean’s dressing room. Shortly into his performance, concert-goers pelted McLean’s guitar with beer bottles, promptly ending the show.

“I don’t know where he went from there, but as soon as I could, I got into the RV and got it out of there,” Higley recalled. “I didn’t want anyone damaging it, since I had borrowed it.”

When renowned painter Denny Dent visited the area in late September 1991, Higley chauffeured him from the Castle Restaurant and Motel, where the Community Bank, N.A. building stands now, across the street to campus. Dressed in paint-covered bib overalls and holding three brushes in each hand, Dent accidentally left a splotch of yellow paint on the inside dashboard of Higley’s then-brand-new Toyota Camry. Nevertheless, Higley said that she didn’t mind Dent’s interior paint job, as it provided her with an entertaining story to tell.  

The day the musical duo of David Crosby and Graham Nash were set to perform in November 1991, Nash showed noticeable signs of illness. Higley offered to bring him to either Olean General Hospital or the university’s wellness center for a check-up. Despite her persistence, the musician forewent medical treatment and eventually performed later that night.

“Being a mother, you keep trying,” said Higley, who had fully raised two daughters and a son by that point.

She admits her favorite memory came with poet Maya Angelou’s visit to campus in March 1996.

Higley and her friend Beverly Twitty-Terrien, the founder of the Olean singing group the Gospel Choraliers, greeted Angelou at her limo and walked the poet through the basement of the Reilly Center en route to her lecture in the arena.

“I was so excited because my friend was holding her hand, and they were walking down the hall hand-in-hand,” Higley said. “They’re both very spiritual. They were both touched that they met each other.”

Among the multitude of guests whose visits Higley helped organize and promote over the years were fitness guru Richard Simmons, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and iconic country music couple Johnny Cash and June Carter.

“It’s just fun to have somebody famous here to bring some culture to campus,” Higley said.

Within her time span at St. Bonaventure, Higley also founded and advised the International Student Association, which focused on the sharing of different cultural customs among international students studying at the university. Additionally, between 1998 and 2014, Higley served as adviser through 18 issues of St. Bonaventure’s now-defunct yearbook The Bonadieu .   

As her May 12 retirement approaches, Higley maintains that applying for a position at the university was the best decision she ever made. Her one complaint is the commute between Portville and campus during harsh snowfalls.

Higley, whose final position at St. Bonaventure is with the Sandra A. and William L. Richter Center with the Center for Activities, Recreation and Leadership, said she will miss speaking with students more than anything.

“It’s been fun getting to know all the students,” she said. “I hate it when they leave.”

In the years ahead, Higley plans to frequently travel to both Colorado and Wisconsin, where members of her family live. She also intends to continue her longtime hobbies of gardening and crafting quilts.

Even as she looks forward to retirement, she remains certain that she will fondly remember her time at St. Bonaventure.

“I always felt comfortable here,” Higley said. “Always.”


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