portrait of Sarah Kelly in mail room

The Long Run: Sarah Kelly

University employees with more than 4 decades under their belts reflect on their careers

They arrived in the 1970s, some after serving in Vietnam, some fresh out of high school or college. More than 40 years later, they still come to work at the University of South Carolina — some after officially “retiring.”

“This is such a great place to work, people don’t want to leave,” says Caroline Agardy, vice president for Human Resources. “They’re proud to work for the University of South Carolina and dedicated to making higher education their life’s work.”

The workers who have committed their careers to the university agree. They stay because they like learning something new every day, helping young students find their way in an increasingly complicated world and interacting with co-workers who feel like family.

TIMES spoke with a few of these long-term employees to see what keeps them coming back to work on campus, long after they could have settled into that place in the mountains or that home by the sea.

Addressing Needs

On Sarah Kelly’s first day, in 1974, she noticed student name labels on the floor inside the student mail center. “How do you know who goes with which box?” she asked.

That one question led to Kelly’s first big challenge in the university’s postal service — assigning student mailboxes and, more importantly, keeping a record of who had which box. “There were five or six people assigned the same mailbox,” she recalls. “We kept wondering why so much mail was returned as misdelivered.”

Kelly went to University Housing and used student room assignments to dole out mailbox numbers. She worked with university technology services at the time to create a computerized version that would assign mailboxes after students were assigned to a residence hall. 

“Now, we have a web-based Mailbox Management System that does all that automatically,” she says. 

The biggest change in student mail has been the decrease in letter mail — and the massive increase in packages. “We used to do six to eight trays of letter mail a day,” she says. “Now we do about half a tray. However, the package volume has increased approximately 178 percent over the last few years because of online shopping.”

Kelly officially retired in 2002 and participated in the state’s TERI program, which was designed to retain certain employees with specialized knowledge or ability for up to five years after their retirement. When that program ended, she returned as a temporary employee. She plans to retire “for real” soon but has given her bosses a two-year warning so she can train her replacement.

“There’s too much work for me to leave,” she says. “When you do it every day, you just know what needs to be done.”

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