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Giving Back: Bessie Katsilometes retires from Idaho State University

Chris Gabettas

Bessie Katsilometes laughs at a photograph of a young woman, fashionably dressed in a white mini dress, neck scarf and matching purse.

Giving Back: Bessie Katsilometes retires from Idaho State University
18-year-old Bessie Katsilometes at Sioux Falls airport in 1970, waiting to board airplane to begin freshman year at Idaho State University.

It’s a picture of her in 1970, standing on the tarmac at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, ready to board an airplane. The 18-year-old was headed west to begin her freshman year at Idaho State University.

“It was my first airplane ride,” she recalls. An excellent high school student, she was looking forward to college in Bengal Country, living near mountains and making new friends.

Flying standby to save money, she was bumped off her flight in Salt Lake City and had to travel the remaining 160 miles by bus. Exhausted, she fell asleep that last leg of the trip.

“When I woke up the first thing I saw were the Greek pillars on the hill,” said Katsilometes, referring to the iconic pillars on ISU’s Red Hill. That image alone was enough to make the first-generation Greek American feel right at home.

But little did she know the bus ride would begin a 46-year affiliation with ISU, including 30 years of employment that would touch the university’s every facet.  Sept. 16, she retired as associate vice president of academic programs at the ISU-Meridian Health Science Center.

“It’s been an amazing journey, a labor of love,” she said.

Giving Back

As an undergraduate, Katsilometes thrived. A student leader, Bengal cheerleader and honors student, she completed her bachelor’s degree in social work and sociology in 3 ½ years instead of the usual four.  Passionate about the role education could play in transforming lives, Katsilometes chose to give back to an institution that had given her so much.

“I wanted to help students… as I had been helped. I consider education a sacred trust because it makes such a difference in people’s lives. It obviously made a difference in my life,” she said.

Katsilometes held numerous positions at ISU over the years—taking leadership posts in community outreach, enrollment planning, recruitment, fund raising and academic administration. She served as academic dean of both ISU-Boise and the Meridian Health Science Center before becoming an associate vice president in 2013.

 Building ISU-Meridian and other highlights

Katsilometes says the highlights of her career are many, but the construction and evolution of the Meridian campus and the enduring partnership with the West Ada School District take top billing—a partnership that enabled ISU to purchase a portion of the mothballed Jabil Circuit plant in 2007 and consolidate Treasure Valley health science programs and clinics under one roof.

Katsilometes was instrumental in the transformation of ISU-Meridian into a state-of-the-art health science education center, housing the L.S. and Aline Skaggs Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratories. Experts in the field say the anatomy and physiology labs with their virtual technology, resources and cutting-edge design rival any in the nation.

Other highlights include working with students, faculty and community partners to establish the ISU-Meridian/Ada County Community Health Screening Program for uninsured and vulnerable Treasure Valley residents and participating in ISU-Meridian’s annual commencement ceremony.

 “That’s the culmination. When you see the students walking across the stage… and you know it’s a new beginning for them,” she said.

As Katsilometes worked, she continued to nurture her personal love for higher education. In 1990, she earned a master’s degree in public administration from ISU, and in 2010, a Ph.D. in humanities with a concentration in transformative studies from San Francisco’s California Institute of Integral Studies.

A member of numerous boards and professional organizations, Katsilometes is a recipient of the ISU Distinguished Service Award and Idaho’s Hometown Hero Award.

New adventures

Her passion for service, mentoring and devotion to ISU were never more evident than the afternoon of Sept. 15 at the annual fall meeting, the day before her official retirement.

It was business as usual—introductions, campus updates and accolades to employees for jobs well done. Then faculty, staff and colleagues thanked Katsilometes for her grace, boundless energy and leadership.

 “Thank you. Thank you for letting me have the privilege of serving you,” she said as she received a standing ovation.

 Katsilometes plans to use retirement to spend time with her baby granddaughter, write and plan her next adventure: a pilgrimage through Greece and Turkey as early as next fall.

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