As much as Becky (Chouteau) Pracht '74 is a part of St. Ambrose, SAU is a part of her as well.
She first "worked" on campus at the tender age of 10 as a model for the art students in the classroom of her father, Thomas Chouteau '51. She took over as campus switchboard operator in 1995 from her sister Carole Anne Chouteau '82, one of seven siblings who earned SAU degrees. Becky also met her husband, Michael '73, at St. Ambrose. Four siblings also married fellow Ambrose alums. Two of her children have SAU degrees, as have numerous nieces and nephews. A son works on campus.
Just a few months after becoming switchboard operator, Pracht added mailroom coordinator duties to her workload. As a result, few Ambrosian paths have not intersected with hers over the past 25 years. "I love that I get to know everyone," she said. "I talk to them on the phone. They get their mail and you interact. For me, that's the biggest joy, really getting to know people."
A Pleasant Hello
Pracht has long been the pleasant voice on the other end of the phone for persons calling the main switchboard number - even at times when she didn't feel especially pleasant, she conceded.
She long ago declined a former New York-bred faculty member's gruff suggestion she try, "Whadd'ya want!" she said. "There are days when we have so much going on that I kind of have to take a deep breath and remember the caller has no idea what's going on," she said.
The Times Are Changin'
Mobile phones long ago replaced landlines once required in every residence hall room. As a result, calls to the switchboard are considerably less frequent. But what technology has taken away in terms of job demands for the telephone operator, it has given back to the post office coordinator. Handwritten letters from home are less frequent, of course, but Pracht and student helpers almost daily find themselves sorting through dozens of package deliveries from online shopping sites.
"The busy time is around Halloween because students are a little homesick at mid-semester," she said. "They get candy and costumes and parents are a little more involved in sending packages. The holidays are not as busy because they go home."
Candy, Birthdays and Bookmarks
Staff and faculty likely know Becky best for the birthday cards they receive each year with a bookmark inside. Students know her as a kind friend on the other side of the mail counter - a counter that is never without a full basket of sweets.
She buys the birthday cards and bookmarks in bulk and saves on stamps by using campus mail. The candy is a bit more expensive. "I spend about $20 per week on candy," she said. It's a grab bag and they love it. I do it because it makes them sweeter when they have to wait in line."