UAA student media loses beloved mentor

John Skelley, administrative assistant to The Northern Light and KRUA, was only in Alaska for a short time, but his impact will be long lasting according to those who worked with him.  Skelley died last week in his home in downtown Anchorage.

Skelley goofed around with The Northern Light staff at their kickoff photobooth.

Skelley’s supervisor, Annie Route, said he started his job in March of 2010 with a huge wealth of experience.

“When I first interviewed John, I couldn’t believe the resume I was looking at.  This man with international finance, desk management at the Marriott.  He wants to come here?” recalled Route, Director of Student Life and Leadership.

Shortly after his start at UAA, Skelley quickly became known as a go to guy.  Paola Banchero, who heads the Journalism and Public Communications Department, worked with Skelley in student media and described him as a godsend who quickly organized the UAA Media Board, the governing body for The Northern Light and KRUA.

“I saw him be a peacemaker, a watchful mentor, a friend and valuable colleague to many people at UAA,” Banchero said.

Skelley had recently helped KRUA Station Manager Audri Pleas overcome serious staff turnover issues that coincided with the beginning of a new semester.  Skelley offered whatever type of assistance was needed, ranging from personal advice to administrative assistance according to Pleas.

“He’s just been there,” Pleas said.  “I consider him like a sixth man on a basketball team.  You know, he gets off the bench and he knows what to do already and then he sits down when it’s necessary, but other than that he’s always there in spirit.”

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His duties ranged from filling out paperwork for new hires to the responsibility of budgeting over $875,000, from checking grade point averages to corralling students, staff and alumni for Media Board meetings.  Student leaders in both organizations said Skelley’s attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile made him both irreplaceable and highly regarded.

“For some reason you just didn’t want to feel like you disappointed or let him down.  He was a no pressure kind of person, you could go up there and talk to him about anything.  And I did.  A lot,” said Josh Edge, former executive editor of The Northern Light.

That sentiment stretched from students to faculty, including Assistant Professor of Journalism Elizabeth Arnold, who chairs the Media Board.

“John had a way of being everything you needed without reminding you of your own inadequacy,” said Arnold.  “I can’t count the number of times he was there at the ready with the information, schedule, legal opinion, or just the right joke to save the day.”

Many attribute Skelley’s professional success with student media to his organizational skills.  Route described him as fastidious, both in his work and his person, which is apparent in the small details that still make up his office.

As perhaps the neatest cubicle in his office, Skelley had a perfect place for everything.  His office never showed signs of the constant barrage of last minute deadlines and volumes of paperwork he received.  Instead, Skelley’s office reflects both his attention to detail and personality at once.  His pens are clipped on an organizer, arranged precisely in a smart, equally distanced, rainbow of color, an art display of office supplies.

The pens also represent the playful nature he had with his coworkers.  His coworkers would often mix up the pens when Skelley wasn’t around as a joke.  Another oft-cited trait of Skelley’s was his sense of humor, which was often accompanied by a twinkle in his eye, raised eyebrow and slight smirk.

 

Comics from the New Yorker are tacked up in his office, such as one with a father explaining to his son about his profession: “Daddy works in a magical, faraway land called Academia.”

The comics and pens still remain exactly as Skelley left them as a silent memorial to the man that made such an impact in the office.  Friends and coworkers say it is still a struggle not hearing his cheerful answer of the phone or seeing him pop up over his cubicle, in what they describe as movement similar to a mere cat.  Coming to work is a reminder that he is not there.

“It’s really hard.  Like this morning I came in and he’d always unlock my door,” Route said tearfully, describing another little detail that signifies the memory Skelley left with friends and coworkers at UAA.

Skelley is survived by his partner, Matthew Bobo, who works for the State of Alaska.  He is also survived by his two sisters as well as other family members.

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