Just over a month ago, I hesitantly walked into a busy recreation center to attend a celebration of Jim Messmer’s life. I had spent the last few days reeling over the news of his passing, and I wasn’t sure I could handle being in that environment. My heart was shattered, and I was scared of how painful it would be to see pictures of Jim, to see his friends and his family, to be at an event confirming what I was still struggling to comprehend. Jim really was gone.
I joined a small huddle of my former coworkers and finally allowed myself to breathe. I wasn’t alone anymore. I was still in a little bit of shock, still heartbroken, still so scared of how difficult the evening was going to be, but in this little huddle I felt more hopeful. I was standing alongside the friends I never would have met if it weren’t for Jim bringing us together.
When I accepted a position at the Webster IT Service Desk, I had no idea I was making a life altering decision. I could not have predicted that I would forge more friendships working there than I did in any of my classes combined. I never would have guessed that my work-study supervisor would play such a huge part in shaping who I am today.
Thanks to Jim, our work environment at the Service Desk wasn’t just positive, it was a blast. Even though we spent our days on the phone helping people with their malfunctioning technology, Jim still managed to make our workspace fun. Some days he’d bring us pizza or donuts just because. He would often step out of his office just to chat with us for a while, and those chats frequently led to inside jokes that none of us will ever forget. Whether he was dropping historical fun facts or completely unexpected one liners, Jim was always brightening our days.
We had several traditions to look forward to every year, such as our annual Halloween costume contests. Jim’s costumes were always spectacular, I’m pretty certain he was the winner every year.
We also had an air hockey tournament at the end of each semester. Those tournaments were serious business. Jim even wore an “air hockey glove” for his matches (I’m pretty sure it was a batting glove).
Between our epic air hockey tournaments and various holiday celebrations, we still had to work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jim taught me a great deal about leadership. He showed me that being a good leader starts with being a good human. He was always honest and gave us constructive criticism. He treated us with respect. He genuinely wanted to hear our opinions and ideas. He listened to us and never missed a chance to tell us how much our hard work was appreciated.
For many of us, Jim became more than just our boss. He became our friend. Throughout several years of working multiple jobs, switching majors and trying to figure out who we wanted to be, Jim was always there to listen. He offered solid advice, gave honest opinions and wasn’t afraid to tell us when we were wrong. In so many ways, Jim pushed me and my coworkers to succeed both in and outside of work. If it weren’t for Jim and his support, many of us wouldn’t be where we are today.
At the celebration for Jim, we met many of Jim’s family and friends. We shared funny stories, and we talked about how Jim helped us become better people. We talked about how that job, for many of us, was instrumental in helping us scrape by and pay for our education.
As I listened and joined in when I could, I was reminded again and again of just how much Jim has impacted my life. He taught me so much just by being himself, and I know that learning from Jim’s example changed me for the better. He was so conscious of how his actions affected others. He adored his wife and two daughters, and they were always at the forefront of his mind. He stood his ground when he knew something was not right. He stood up and spoke for others who didn’t have the power to speak for themselves. It should be no surprise we all looked up to him.
When someone we love passes away, it’s common to say things like ‘They’ll never truly leave us,’ and I’ve always seen truth in that. However, there’s something unique about how Jim will always be with us. Many of the Webster IT Service Desk alumni have moved on to different jobs, some in different states, but our friendships have not faded. The connections we have with each other exist because of Jim. He created an environment that encouraged us to build those lasting friendships in the first place, and I will forever be thankful for that.
Those connections we share will always keep Jim alive in our hearts, and we will continuously honor him by following his example. I know my friends who still work at the IT Service Desk are working hard to maintain the environment Jim created. I’m always trying to create that same kind of space where I work now. It’s not the same without Jim, and it never will be. This pain we all feel may never completely fade, but each time I’ve been able to help someone by doing something I learned from Jim, I feel that same hopefulness I felt when I was standing in that little huddle at Jim’s celebration. Thanks to Jim, none of us are ever alone, and we’ll find a way to get through this together.