In memory of one of our own: Julie Mikuska [BA/80]
With great sadness, I write that Julie Mikuska [BA/80], a good friend and colleague, died recently. She passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, from complications due to pneumonia. Julie was a part of the UM community from 1988 – 2011 serving in many roles on the Fort Garry campus.
I’ve never been a staff member of the University, but I was lucky enough to know Julie in many capacities since the early 1990s. Julie worked under the leadership of Dr. Emőke Szathmáry, President Emeritus, and Elaine Goldie, Vice-President (External) Emeritus, at the University of Manitoba. Through those years that we worked on university communication projects together, I can proudly say that Julie was one of my favourite friends. She was a colleague, advisor, collaborator, mentor, fellow humourist, and someone who shared my deep love of travel and curiosity about other places and cultures.
The first time we met, I was a recent UM graduate and an eager graphic designer learning to navigate what I considered to be a new and somewhat scary environment. Julie, a UM employee in the Administration Office, by circumstance was one of my first clients. Sometimes fate brings people together; I will always be grateful that our paths crossed at such an impressionable time in my career. Julie had a brilliant calming effect, no matter what kind of deadline we had, and she always saw the big picture and what it would take to get to the deadline. Her level of patience seemed unimaginable and unparalleled. Working together, I observed how she supported people and helped them find their way, while adding in her own expertise and ideas. Ever the collaborator, she helped bring out the best in people. We worked on at least six or seven UM annual reports together, along with many other campaigns, and the more we got to know each other, the more I understood her impact on those around her, especially me. Julie built close relationships with many alumni, many of which translated into personal friendships that endured beyond her time at the UM.
While both of our careers continued on, her focus at the university switched to alumni relations. Soon after her start as Executive Director of the Alumni Association, I joined the Association’s Board of Directors, first as a board member and eventually as chair. Our team was together again! This gave us new projects to focus on, and the opportunity to have more impact in the university community, and more fun. Her approach to working with UM alumni, particularly those who were celebrating significant milestones, was nothing short of first class and always incredibly inspiring. The respect she showed every graduate she met taught the rest of us how rewarding it can be to make genuine and lasting connections.
Maybe what gave me the most pleasure in my connection with alumni relations was showing up for meetings in the old Alumni House. Here you could see how close Julie and her team were through all of the long working days and all of the well-run alumni events. Coming in that front door was like walking into a family home, certainly not an office. I cherish those times with Julie (and her team), working to further alumni relations and at the same time, develop advocates in our community of graduates. In my mind, it’s very likely that there are a lot of people out there who remember Julie, the gentle way she spoke, and her love of the UM community.
The best thing about getting to know someone so well over the years, is that when it happens that you do drift apart, even for just a short while, you still feel as connected as you’ve ever been. To me, that’s a sign of a true friendship. So when I heard from Julie’s twin sister Laura that Julie had passed away, it just seemed unbelievable and impossible. I tried to remember what our last conversation was, the last time we met for coffee, or what she’d been posting on social media. I’m thankful for the time and experiences we had together and I know whether it’s from the UM community, friends or family, Julie will be greatly missed.