Each year, Pitt State’s office of Alumni & Constituent Relations honors an alumnus who has volunteered to an area of Pitt State in an extraordinary way with the Dr. Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award.
The 2021 winner of the award is Sara Henry, who has dedicated 20 years of service to PSU’s department of music through various roles including currently serving as the Solo & Chamber Music concert series coordinator and leader of the Friends group.
“I’m still dumbfounded,” Henry said. “When John Bartlow called me telling me I had won the award, I said ‘huh? Me?’ It’s also special because Dr. Thomas was my advisor in college.”
John Bartlow, director of Alumni & Constituent Relations, said the winner is chosen by the Alumni Awards Committee, and honors people who “really go above and beyond to help with some aspect of university life.”
“The Distinguished Service Award is really about giving your time and talent to your university,” Bartlow said.
According to Susan Marchant, chair of the music department, Henry coordinates the hospitality for receptions, assists in transportation, communicates with patrons, and coordinates with local and regional members, among other duties.
“Her record of service for the university is very strong and she’s assisted with a number of projects in the music department but at the core of that is the extraordinary work that she’s done for the series,” Marchant said. “Anything we can do to make the guest artists feel welcome (she does) …just knowing there is someone there that can assist them. Her principle work is with the Friends’ group and they contribute in so many ways to make the concerts a success.”
Henry played in the college band her freshman and sophomore year and graduated from PSU in 1968 with a business education degree. Although Henry didn’t study in the music department, she always enjoyed the department and the people in it.
“Music had always been a part of (my) life,” Henry said. “I’ve just always enjoyed the music department. There was something about the music department that… the people are always so friendly (and) open. I’ve always said the music department is PSU’s best kept secret because we’ve had some very, very good musicians that have left and graduated and gone into the world and done some wonderful things.”
Marchant believes Henry’s service “speaks to the power of music.”
“It’s an important force in many of our lives, and we have many people in the region and in the community that go the extra mile to make sure it happens by attending, by providing donor support, just by being involved,” Marchant said.
Henry said that throughout the years, one of her favorite parts of being involved with the music department is interacting with the musicians.
“To me it was always such an honor to have the quality of musicians that we had come to the campus because in the music world some of them were very, very well known,” Henry said. “I just enjoyed being around, listening, and being able to contribute what I could… it was just the whole atmosphere of receptions and visiting with other people that I knew and listening to the musicians and what their world is like. That’s fun for me because I stand in awe of their talent, so it’s fun to listen and ask questions and talk to them.”
Henry also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know people better through her work with the department as well as spend time with her late husband at the concerts and receptions.
Not only the music department and Solo & Chamber Music have benefited from Henry’s service, but her volunteer work has also helped her grow as an individual.
“…I’m basically a shy person, even if people don’t believe that now,” Henry said. “But it took me a long time not to be quite so shy, and so when I went to the receptions it gave me a comfort level of knowing people…it gave me a chance to know people better and meet new people on a common ground.”
Bartlow said that alumni service like Henry’s is a testament to the “unique” culture at Pitt State.
“I’ve worked at other colleges and I really think that the culture we have here at Pittsburg State is unique,” Bartlow said. “When I’m out at alumni events, I tell our alumni with all sincerity that I truly believe this place couldn’t be what it is today without the support of our alumni. It’s a testament to how hard working and selfless our alumni are, that we have an award like this.”