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UND's Alice Brekke retiring after nearly 40 years with the university

UND Vice-President for Finance and Operations Alice Brekke, far right, greets friends Monday at the Gorecki Alumni Center during a reception in her honor for her nearly 40 years of service at UND. Her husband, David, joins her as Lisa Heher, left, and Cathy McDonald congratulate her. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Alice Brekke may not have been born and raised in North Dakota, but she says community and the help of others shaped her nearly 40-year career at the university.

The UND vice president for finance and operations will retire Friday after 39 years at UND.

During her time at the school, Brekke has seen a lot of change—renovation, construction and demolition projects—and has served directly under five presidents.

Technology and the way it is used at UND, as well as the "physical presence" of the campus, also have evolved over time. The development of the school's research enterprise also has changed.

"I think change is a constant in this institution," Brekke said. "When I think about all the ways in which its evolved in (all the years) I've been involved it isn't any one (big change)."

Brekke has been an important link to the North Dakota Legislature and has always been able to answer or find answers to questions for legislators, university officials and community members alike, UND President Mark Kennedy said. Jed Shivers, who was selected in April to take over the position, has "big shoes to fill," the president said.

"She has not just been a great finance person but she has been a great connection throughout the university, throughout the city, throughout the state," Kennedy said. "She's developed a relationship of trust with many community leaders and many state leaders."

State and local leaders have a lot of trust in Brekke, UND spokesman Peter Johnson said.

"She knows her stuff, she comes prepared," he said. "She's a very nice person, very approachable. She explains things well, so legislators (and) others in state government, they really have loved working with her."

Journey through UND

Brekke, originally from Connecticut, came to North Dakota during her junior year of college. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting from the university in 1979 and 1987, respectively.

Brekke has held many titles during her time at UND. She was hired as a new accounting graduate in the Engineering Experiment Station.

Later, she was an assistant to the dean of the College of Engineering and Mines and then did work at the Energy and Environmental Research Center for a time.

Then, Brekke joined the central administration office where she was in charge of grants and contracts for the school. Brekke would take on the role of budget office director as well.

She served as an assistant to former UND President Kendall Baker during the 1997 flood to look at what the recovery would look like financially.

"On the one hand, it was devastating. It was difficult for people to adjust," she said of the flood. "But I think we came back stronger and built on the foundations that were there before, and we were able to move forward."

Brekke was named vice president for finance and operations at UND in May 2009. Brekke oversees multiple areas, including resource planning, the budget, facilities management, public safety, the Chester Fritz Auditorium and the affirmative action office.

"(They are) areas that are very different from each other, but I've got a wonderful team of folks that I work with, including my fellow VPs and presidents," she said. "It's been a good run."

All about community

UND feels like a community to Brekke, who said that was just one reason why she decided to stay with the university for so long.

"It inspires a passion in people to be a part of it," she said. "I saw that when I was a student here, and I very quickly saw that when I became an employee of the institution."

Brekke said she was given a number of "wonderful" growth opportunities at UND and had many mentors who helped her along the way.

"I think I'm most proud of the people that I was able to bring in to the institution as employees and to nurture over the years," Brekke said.

Brekke and her husband, David, plan to move to Colorado during retirement to spend time with family, but they still want to stay engaged with the university.

"This campus has had the ability to adapt and evolve to this point, and I don't see that changing," she said. "That's one of the real strengths that I see in this community and in this campus environment. I hope folks continue to embrace (the idea) that change is a good thing."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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