Friday, May 20, 2011

It's Their Turn to Learn: Dziagwa Joins Husband in Retirement After Three Decades of Touching Student's' Lives 4-12-2011

Connie Dziagwa
by Jeff Fox
    Connie Dziagwa has been a lady with two life-long affairs. Two love affairs, to be exact. While for some celebrities no extreme would be too great to protect them from gossip regarding their steamy interludes; Dziagwa has let her double romance be quite public, in fact one of her loves has demanded it.
    Of course, it’s her role as Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at WVU Parkersburg, which has demanded an open relationship. Soon Dziagwa will be stepping away from this long and fruitful affair, but her love of WVU Parkersburg and the people it serves will continue to be a flame in her heart. “My intent has always been to leave here still loving what I do, and that’s what I’m doing,” Dziagwa said.
    Now to be fair, her other affair began several years before her relationship with WVU Parkersburg, as many do, in the wondrous years of college. Born and raised in Ironton, Ohio, it was a fairly obvious choice for Connie to attend Marshall University in nearby Huntington, W.Va. Her course of study was also fairly easy to choose, given the fact that her father was the editor of the Herald Dispatch and the Ironton Tribune. “I come by my background quite easily; I went to Marshall and majored in journalism,” Dziagwa said. She worked an internship at WSAZ-TV as part of her studies at Marshall. But a degree and work experience weren’t the only things with which she left Huntington.
    We all remember the old saying about all work and no play, and it seems that some of Connie’s friends knew that saying, too. They urged her to socialize and meet new people from different places, which is all an important part of the college dynamic. Mutual friends introduced her to Bill, the man whom she would marry. Now every relationship always has at least a split second of twists and turns, and theirs was no exception. “Let’s just say that my wife (to be) was in a sorority with one of my best buddy’s girlfriends, and it just so happened that we all got together at the same location, and frankly I was doing my best to put my best moves on one of her sorority sisters and my wife (to be) felt I was being a bit foolish,” a chuckling Bill Dziagwa admits. (Ladies take note at this point, for it is one of the mysteries of man. It’s as old as the hills; a man sometimes requires rejection to truly see the best things for him.) The two students arranged to get together and talk the next night, which was followed by dating regularly, and as they say … the rest is history.
    As the couple wrapped up their college careers, they were happily married and moved to Parkersburg. Did it take any coaxing to get Connie to relocate to the Mid-Ohio Valley? “No, not really,” Bill reminisced. As the two began their new life together in Bill’s hometown, Connie put her journalism degree to work, and began reporting in the local media. “I worked at the Parkersburg Sentinel for five years, and I was the educational reporter so I covered the college as part of my beat,” Connie says. At that time WVU Parkersburg was known as Parkersburg Community College, and through her reporting, Connie was becoming very familiar with the institution. After her stint writing for the Sentinel, Connie had the opportunity to start her career at PCC. She was hired as the college’s communication specialist in 1979. It was Connie’s first title of eight while, working at WVU Parkersburg under four college presidents over 32 years. Connie replaced the college’s original director of public information, Peggy Kessinger, who was retiring after 15 years of service.
    Bill was busy putting his education degree to use teaching at Parkersburg High School. While teaching at PHS, Bill was also involved in coaching girls’ basketball at Parkersburg Catholic High School. During that time they won several state championships and broke state records. The two newlyweds were beginning a journey that would help to shape the face of education in the area. But both are far too humble to lay claim to any personal achievements; the Dziagwa’s would be team players both at work and at home.  
    As Connie began her new position as communication specialist, she was excited to take on new tasks over the years as her job description began to grow. These tasks revolved around the growth of the college’s offerings, plus how to communicate these important changes to the area. “When I first started working here, there was no internet, the college’s first fax machine used thermal paper and was in my office,” Connie said. Not only did she have changing technologies to address, but the amount of information kept growing to meet people’s needs, leading to more responsibilities in how the college can effectively communicate its opportunities to the public. “We used to print 28,000 copies of the schedule every fall and mail them to out to area residents, and now there is no printed copy of the schedule. It’s all online,” Connie said. “The instantaneousness of being able to be in touch with media has revolutionized how we do the business,” she added.
    As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of WVU Parkersburg, it is evident that numerous changes have occurred at the college, some quietly and others much heralded. “I think what would overshadow everything would be 1989, when we became a regional campus of WVU. That changed the direction of the college. Up until that point we were known as a very good community college, but when we became part of WVU that gave us the opportunity to start offering baccalaureate degrees here that were our degrees, and it changed everything about the college,” Connie proudly said. Changing the name of the college was a also a major undertaking, and one of the single most important factors of the new partnership. “The community was so excited about the relationship, that enrollment jumped by 15 percent that fall,” Dziagwa said. Connie quickly down plays her role in creating this buzz, but it was historically important, be a humble communication specialist or not!
    One of Connie’s toughest challenges occurred in 2008, when legislation was passed that changed the college’s relationship with WVU. Explaining those changes to students and the community required a special finesse to guarantee that everyone understood exactly how the relationship had changed. The community needed to understand that programs and quality of education were not going to be compromised. One point was making sure that residents understood that our baccalaureate degrees were solely WVU Parkersburg’s, and not merely offered in conjunction with WVU.  The task even utilized surveys as to whether or not students and the community felt the college’s name should be changed. “Our relationship was changing with WVU, but we were going to continue a relationship with them,” Dziagwa said.              
    Bill's relationship with professional education was also changing. After a teaching career that included time spent teaching at PHS and Warren High School, where Bill also helped coach several athletic teams, he retired in 2010. “One of our keys to success in our marriage, is that we were always supportive of one another, pursuing either career that we both have. I was involved in coaching and when you coach you’re away from home quite a bit, and she was one of the most supportive wives you could have,” Bill said. “If either one of had to do our careers over again, we would have done the same thing. I have no regrets and neither does my wife,” he added. The couple both view themselves as supporters to one another, both sporting a daily positive attitude and maintaining an optimistic view. “We both understand public education, of course, so there certainly was an understanding and empathy for what each of us did,” Connie added.
    It is evident that a major joy of the Dziagwas careers has been the ability to touch students’ lives. “When you have individual students that achieve something or say something to you, it kind of all makes it worthwhile,” Bill explained. Reaching and communicating with students has been a driving force for their past 30 years.
    Of course all this talk of retirement leads one to be inquisitive about future plans of the Dziagwas. Connie is enjoying genealogy, and has always enjoyed music, and is looking forward to the opportunity to play different instruments in her upcoming free time. “I always remember singing and playing the piano, and later on the guitar. It’s just something I have always done. I’m the oldest of four children and we all grew up with an appreciation for music,” Connie said. Even today her mother enjoys singing and playing the piano.
    When asked what the couple will share together as they move into retirement, Bill quickly replies, “travel and golf.” Connie adds,” He loves to golf and that may be something … that I need to get a little bit better at.” The couple also enjoys walking together, after years involved in running.
    After nearly 40 years of marriage is there anything left for the Dziagwas to discover about one another? When asked about his wife’s preference on a Netburger, “mustard and cheese,” Bill ponders. Hmmm … close but it’s a “small Netcheeseburger with mustard and pickle,” Connie said. She adds that Joe Roedersheimer, long-time part owner of the North End Tavern, was one of the friends who introduced them at Marshall.
    All of us here at the Chronicle staff wish Connie and Bill a long, happy retirement together. Just don’t forget the pickle Bill! 

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