Fifty years ago, a handful of young and newly relocated faculty and staff began a holiday tradition at UNLV that continues to grow today. Among the early creators of the Holiday Card Tree project were then-professor Don Schmiedel and his wife, Grace.
“The idea was that rather than feel obligated to send a card to all of your colleagues, you’d send one holiday card to the Faculty Club for all,” said Don Schmiedel, who taught foreign languages until retiring in 1999. The cards that were received adorned a tree that was set up in the Student Union.
Along with the cards, faculty and staff would include a check to donate to student scholarships. The Faculty Club would print one card recognizing all contributors, and distribute it campuswide.
“Money started coming in, and the first year there was enough to award a half of a scholarship,” Grace Schmiedel said. “In those days, that was about $300. The first student to receive it was Karen Harville.” She would go on to earn a degree in biology.
That practice continues today, and over the past five decades dozens of students have received help from the Faculty Staff Holiday Card scholarship. Today, the value of the endowed fund tops $135,000.
One of this year’s three scholarship recipients, Sean Conners, 32, is a nontraditional student who returned to school after working in hospitality management. Conners now is studying kinesiology with plans to become a physical therapist specializing in children’s health.
“I’m happy to be pursuing something I’m personally passionate about,” Conners, a junior, said. When he was younger, he was a camp counselor and some of the children he worked with suffered from juvenile diabetes. “They had physical therapists and they developed really special relationships with them. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with kids and help them that way.”
Another 2017 recipient, Aeren Dempsey, is in his second year studying computer science.
“To me, the scholarship is huge,” Dempsey said. “With work and school, it affords me a little more freedom and peace of mind.”
Dempsey, 22, moved to Las Vegas from Samoa after high school. “I love it. It’s really intellectually rewarding,” he said of his course of study. “I stay open to new developments in computer science, but I know that I am in the field I want to be in.”
Student Sarah Bame, a criminal justice senior, said that the scholarship helped ease her worries about the amount of student loan debt she was accumulating.
“Every little bit helps — especially because I want to go on to pursue an advanced degree,” Bame said. She wants to specialize in rehabilitation programs in corrections facilities. “I want to advocate for adults to learn skills to make re-entry more successful,” she said.
During the course of the Faculty Staff Holiday Card’s 50-year history, notable local artists, faculty, and students have had a hand in creating the artwork for the card. Their unique holiday-themed illustrations and photos capture the spirit of the campus, the Southwest, and the times.
Card design has ranged from red-capped tortoises and snow-topped cacti to images of UNLV students covered with lights. This year, senior graphic design major Sydney Mendoza is creating an original Rebel-themed design. [View the Holiday Card Tree slideshow.]
And some 50 years since they started the tradition, Grace and Don Schmiedel look back with fond memories.
“Those were the building days, when things were just getting going here,” Don Schmiedel said while the couple sorted through some of the old holiday cards preserved at the UNLV Foundation.
“It is really great, this many years later, to see that the faculty and staff continue the tradition of giving.”