2015 Kathleen Bowen Award Winner.
Nestled in the Hayden Building on the south edge of campus is a small space where big things happen. From 0730 to 1600 hours on any given day of the school year, cadets file into the Uniform Store. At times they arrive in waves so great in number that they form an L-shaped line around the store. The neatly organized space contains a plethora of items essential to cadet life, even down to the tiny metal clasps that affix to the backs of uniform accoutrements, aptly called “damnits.” As the cadets await their turns, some talk casually, even joke, while others stand quietly, almost in meditation. Each needs something: an alteration, a replacement button, or maybe just a few moments away from their cadre.
The legions of cadets who approach the counter each year know the smile of the clerk whose face has become inextricably associated with the Uniform Store. It is time to put a name to the face: Meet Jean Larocque.
A genuine Vermonter, Larocque (pronounced luh-ROCK) hails from a large, tight-knit Brookfield family, and grew up within a stone’s throw of the floating bridge. She is one among an efficient, upbeat team responsible for outfitting the Corps of Cadets from head to toe. It is a year-round job, with summers spent busily preparing for rook arrival.
“We have a sheet of paper with the name of each student, with a list of what goes into each footlocker,” she says. “It’s amazing, the number of items that fit into that trunk.” Details are critical: The trunk inventory must be complete, and the items must fit. In a blink, fall has arrived, and the fittings, refittings, and alterations keep the Uniform Store team on their toes, “continually, all through the year.”
And every day, even when the window next to her counter—which she jokingly calls her “view”—is obscured by snow, she brings her trademark smile to work.
It was Larocque’s smile that Chief Administrative Officer Dave Magida evoked when he described the person cadets refer to as “Miss Jean” during NU’s 35th annual employee recognition dinner. Larocque had no idea she was about to receive the Kathleen (Kay) Bowen Award for administrative support.
“I remember Dave Magida saying something about a smile,” she says. “I was trying to picture who he was talking about.” When she heard her name, she momentarily froze. “I thought, Is there another Jean Larocque here?”
But the honor would come as no surprise to the regiment, especially the rooks, who often seek refuge in the Uniform Store—a neutral zone where they can be at ease. Larocque and her colleagues do their best to make the environment inviting to students, including bringing in home-baked cookies during the holidays. In that setting, Larocque, now in her fifth year at Norwich, watched as the Class of 2015 transformed from timid freshmen to self-assured upperclassmen.
Standing in her usual spot behind the counter on an unusually quiet summer day, Larocque reflects, with motherly warmth, on the rooks during their first week, lined up at the store for their uniform fittings, “how nervous and scared they are, their lips quivering. They don’t talk much. By the time they’re sophomores, they’re quite a bit more confident. Then by the time they leave as seniors, they seem to appreciate what everyone at Norwich has done for them. It’s nice to see them evolve. They grow up.” – j.e.d.