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Dedner Recalls 45-Year Legacy at UA Little Rock

Ophelia Dedner, center, celebrates her retirement from UA Little Rock.
Ophelia Dedner, center, celebrates her retirement from UA Little Rock.

When Ophelia Dedner first arrived on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus in 1978, she recalls it being a place that few would recognize from the sprawling campus of today.

“UA Little Rock was a family, and everyone knew each other,” Dedner said. “Offices did not have desktop computers and fax machines were uncommon, so hand delivery was the quickest way to ensure that documents were received and delivered timely. Many employees would eat breakfast and lunch in the Donaghey Student Center, where you had the opportunity to meet many staff members and students.”

But desktop computers would eventually arrive on campus, along with a lifetime of changes that span Dedner’s devoted 45-year career at the university. Dedner came to UA Little Rock after being selected as one of 10 women recruited from the Opportunities Industrialization Center to participate in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program, a federal plan to train workers and provide them with job opportunities, conducted at UA Little Rock.

According to a 1979 Arkansas Democrat article, “Opportunity plus endurance equals success,” “the CETA program was organized after Chancellor Ross noticed there was a disproportionately small amount of minority group women in UALR clerical positions.”

The Human Resources director and two office management instructors oversaw the program. They contacted the Opportunity Industrialization Center and recruited their top 10 students for the pilot program. Dedner and the other participants were trained and then placed in offices throughout the campus. The women rotated among many offices, including personnel, library, payroll, and the chancellor’s office. After completing the program, Dedner’s first job on campus was as a secretary in the Office of Chancellor G. Robert Ross.

While she ended her career as the associate director for recruitment, Dedner’s long career has taken her from the Office of the Chancellor and Affirmative Action to the Graduate School and Human Resources.

“She has been an unfailingly dedicated member of the HR Team, serving our campus community with grace and guidance,” said LaTonda Williams, associate vice chancellor of human resources. “She always offered a listening ear, a wealth of knowledge, and an encouraging word. We will greatly miss her positive attitude and know that she will be hard to replace.”

In her last position, she was responsible for the recruitment of all faculty and staff positions. She recalls that before automation she would sometimes process more than 1,000 applications a month manually.

“Applicants would come into the office and fill out applications by hand,” she said. “It was my responsibility to review, screen, test, and determine the qualifications of the applicants. This allowed me to meet so many people, and it also taught me patience. I was able to talk to applicants and make them more aware of their skill sets. I was also responsible for finding extra labor employees for offices needing to hire employees immediately.

One day, I pulled a lady’s application who I felt was exceptionally qualified but hadn’t been hired. She had applied for several full-time positions. We needed extra help in our office and I reached out to her. When she shared her story with me, I was humbled by her struggles. She was thankful for the opportunity, and I was thankful because she became my first assistant. She had truly given up on ever finding employment again. Moments like that assured me that I was in my rightful place. I learned to understand that we so often underestimate our talents. It was not unusual for me to assist applicants with their resumes.”

Dedner took advantage of working at a university to advance her education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and took a few graduate classes in social work.

“Looking back now, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to further my education,” she said. “I wanted to show my children it was possible. If I could do it while raising three kids as a single mom, they had no excuse to not do it.”

Coming to UA Little Rock became a family affair. Dedner’s children have all worked at the university. Her daughter, Cynthia Dedner, assistant athletic director for business operations, has worked at UA Little Rock since 2003. Her son Billy worked in Mail Services for four years, while her son Kevin worked as extra labor for a day or two.

“Her reputation has preceded her,” Cynthia Dedner said of her mother. “She is the type of person who likes to get the job done and likes to put a smile on people’s faces. When someone finds out that she is my mom, they say that she is an awesome person. I think every encounter someone had with her was positive. She is genuinely that type of person. She is also a kind person. She takes the time to listen. She wants to get things done to the best of her ability over 45 years. She’s a go-getter, and she is someone who has been my inspiration over the years.”

Now that she is enjoying her well-earned retirement, Dedner is volunteering more with her husband at their church, Immanuel Baptist Church, and spending more time with her family. She has three children and six grandchildren. Dedner’s mother, who still lives in their hometown of Tucker, will celebrate her 106th birthday this month. But Dedner will always cherish her lifetime of memories at UA Little Rock.

“Those people are my family,” she said. “Forty-five years has been a lifetime for many people. On the day I walked onto campus, I never would have dreamed that I would be here this long and see it grow into the campus that it is today. During my time at UA Little Rock, I have met friends and lost friends. I saw babies being born and eventually saw those babies having babies. It has been such a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. For a long time, I do not think there will be a day when I don’t think of UA Little Rock.”