Karen Wieda knows a lot about building something from the ground up.
She and her husband built their own house, and she also played a big role in the beginning of East Central College.
While she continues to live in the house that she built with her hands, she will soon retire from the college that she helped create.
“I feel like I presented a good work ethic for everyone,” she said.
In the Beginning
Wieda, who is ECC’s registrar, started out at the college as faculty secretary, and she was there the first year the school opened.
Leaving the school makes her feel as if she is giving up a part of herself.
She began working at ECC after graduating from Jefferson College, where she also worked for three years.
As ECC was becoming established, she decided to work there since it was closer to her home and family.
Her office serves as a hub for the campus, she said, adding, “It’s quite a responsibility, and I’ve enjoyed it. But it’s time to move on and spend some time with my family.”
In her 43 years with the college, there have been massive changes because of technology. She noted that when she started, grades were posted with a typewriter.
“We had to type on each student’s transcript what courses they took and their final grades,” Wieda said.
Now students can register themselves for classes online, and grades can be posted over the computer.
The number of employees the college had in the early days could probably be counted on two hands, whereas now there are more than 200 full-time staffers, she said.
Likewise, there are numerous campuses now, including the main campus in Union and satellite locations in Rolla, Sullivan, Warrenton and offerings in Washington.
When the college was getting going, some of the first classes were held in a church, and the basketball team practiced in the Union High School gym.
Wieda’s office is located in the first building that was built on the Union campus in the early 1970s.
She happily looks back on the students who have gone on to be movie stars, baseball players, doctors and lawyers.
Being with the college from the beginning has been “fantastic,” Wieda said, adding that the solid employees have helped the school rise from its humble beginnings to its important status in the community.
“A lot of times, people refer to us as the ECC family,” Wieda said.
The community’s financial support of the college through building bonds has also played an important role, she said.
The story of the college’s continued success through the years is similar to Wieda’s personal life story.
And family is a big part of her life, she said, noting that when she retires she is going to Disney World with her children, grandchildren and husband, Ellis, whose nickname is “John.” They have been married for 45 years.
“That’s going to be our big bang,” Wieda said.
Her son, Raymond Wieda, is a professional engineer in Little Rock, Ark., and he and his wife have two children, Abbey and Kate.
She also has a daughter, Julianne Anderson, who works as a nurse at Washington’s Mercy Hospital, and she has a girl named Emma.
Hard Work Ethic
Wieda was born and raised in the Lonedell area of Franklin County, and she is a graduate of St. Clair High School.
Her dad worked for a mining company, and her mom was a housewife.
Her dad also did part-time farming in the evening, and he raised cattle and baled hay.
“We’d have to help him do some of that,” Wieda said, adding that she would drive the tractor. “He taught us good work ethic.”
She also helped her mom with the garden and the canning of tomatoes, corn and green beans.
“She’s well-known for her dill pickles,” she said. “She made very good dill pickles.”
Her mom, Irene Dierker, turns 91 in January, and her dad, Kenneth, passed away 20 years ago. Wieda has three sisters—Dorothy, Brenda and Joyce— and she is the oldest.
Other than helping out with chores as a child, Wieda also spent time swimming and fishing in a lake by her family’s property.
Wieda looks back fondly on her childhood, saying, “I think that’s the key—a good family background.”
She met her husband through some family members, and he is a retired operating engineer for Budrovich, an excavating company.
“He did a lot of operating of the heavy equipment,” she said.
Wieda said she was initially attracted to her husband because he reminded her of her dad. She also noticed that her husband treated people right, and they got married a year after she graduated from Jefferson College.
With the spare time Wieda will have in retirement she plans to organize family photos into albums, help get her granddaughter on the school bus in the morning and volunteer at her granddaughter’s school.
She is active in her church, Prospect Baptist Church in Lonedell, as the Sunday school secretary, and she also helps in the nursery.
Travel is possibly on the agenda, and she would like to go to the Northwest and revisit Alaska. Visiting her grandchildren in Little Rock more often is another idea.
She also likes reading books, especially heartwarming stories, not scary ones.
“I like happy endings,” Wieda said, noting that she thinks she will have such when she leaves the college.