Victoria Bergen’s colleagues describe her as the gatekeeper of the president’s office.
“If she were not so sweet and instantly ready to be helpful to everyone, I would call her the unmoved mover. She has divine attributes, but not that kind of deity,” College President Larry Arnn said.
Bergen, who serves as the president’s office executive assistant, is leaving at the end of the summer, after seven years of service. Bergen, who studied political economy while at Hillsdale, has worked in the president’s office since a month after her graduation in 2011. Dean of Women Diane Philipp recommended her for the job at a basketball game at the beginning of her last semester of school.
“She told me there was an opening in the president’s office and that she thought I should apply,” Bergen said. “I thanked her; I thought it was quite a compliment ‚and I was quite inspired by that, but inside I was thinking, ‘Yeah, right, I could never work up there.’ I didn’t really think about it after that.”
Bergen, who was applying for jobs with different political organizations in Washington, D.C., at the time, did not consider the opportunity again until Professor of Law Robert Blackstock suggested the job to her, independent of Philipp. She then began talking with fellow students who began working in the office after graduation and decided to apply.
“As an undergrad, I always knew that if I could ever work for the college I would, to try and give back in some way, because the college has blessed me in so many areas. So it just proceeded from there,” Bergen said.
Arnn attributed a majority of the efficiency of the president’s office to Bergen’s presence.
“Victoria is a picture of quiet efficiency,” Arnn said in an email. “She seems to have command of everything, and this does not seem very difficult for her. She is blessed with superb judgment.”
He described fellow employees going with “an element of awe” to ask Bergen for help.
Assistant to the President Jaclyn Case, who has worked in the office for two years, said it was Bergen who introduced her to most of the other staff.
“If it wasn’t for her, I would still be sitting in the corner, not knowing a lot of faces,” Case said, laughing.
Bergen described her own job as a simple matter of doing whatever needs to be done, from calendar items to larger goals, like the Churchill Project.
“Mainly, I see my role as supporting Dr. Arnn and our office in the mission of Hillsdale. Looking at what Dr. Arnn needs, what Mrs. Arnn needs, or working with senior staff members,” Bergen said.
But, she said, her favorite task is entertaining.
“I love events and hospitality,” Bergen said. “I’ve been able to work a lot with Mrs. Arnn on different events that the president’s office has put on.”
Bergen’s knack for hospitality extends beyond just Hillsdale events, and Arnn said everyone in the office is “angling for an invitation to dinner.”
“When things are fun, which is often, Victoria enjoys it more than anyone,” Arnn said. “She is a tremendous cook, at least judged by the things she brings to the office to eat. This capacity means that celebrations, birthdays, holidays, and such are tasty in the president’s office. We will all miss that.”
Arnn said he teases Bergen more than the others in the office do, and has even attempted to match her up with other male employees.
“I have proposed marriage between her and several people over the years, often in the presence of both of them, always with the comment that the young man was unworthy. Apparently she has agreed with me about their worthiness,” Arnn said.
Despite Arnn’s attempts to set Bergen up, marriage is not the reason for her departure from the president’s office. Bergen will return to her home in Nebraska to commence a three-year study to receive her doctorate in occupational therapy. Bergen attributed this shift of interest in part to watching occupational therapists help her father after an accident a couple of years ago.
“Being able to see how they can truly impact someone’s life really drew me to that field,” she said.
Bergen explained she planned to only work in the president’s office for a couple of years, like most of those who held the position before her. Once there, however, she worked for five years before beginning to contemplate a change.
“A couple of years ago, I was sitting down and asked myself, ‘Victoria, what do you want to do with your life?’” she said. “I knew I wanted to impact people on a more practical and personal level. All the aspects that I desired in a career were in occupational therapy.”
Case explained that the transition has been in progress since that point, though finding someone to take over Bergen’s role has not been easy.
“It’s got to be the right fit,” Case said. “We’re a big team, we all do parts of projects and are constantly working together, so you really want someone who can fit in to that dynamic.”
She added that her respect for Arnn has grown through working for him.
“As a student, I never realized how much Dr. Arnn did. I think every year that goes by, I gain a new appreciation for all the sacrifices that he makes and how dedicated he is to the college and the students; it’s just incredibly impressive. Now I know exactly what he does every day, and I would not want his job, let’s put it that way,” she said, laughing.
She also emphasised the importance of getting to know Penny Arnn, President Arnn’s wife.
“Mrs. Arnn is one of the most gracious people I have ever met and a superb hostess. It’s been really impressive to see what she does as well and the support that she is behind the scenes,” Bergen said.
Afterall, even in the president’s office, Bergen said Hillsdale is about the people.
“I think the thing that I will take away from this job the most are the people that I’ve worked with,” she said.