Retiree Updike leaves legacy of devotion, service

She's Professor Updike to strangers, but to her students she's just "Mom." She's the master of tying knots, treading water, toasting marshmallows and putting out fires literally.

For 35 years Professor Connie Updike has taught hundreds of her recreational management "children" at HU. Though beloved by students, athletes and colleagues for more than three decades, she believes this is God's timing for her to move on. She retired at the end of the academic year.

"I have been an educator for 40 years, and there are still things I would like to experience and learn about," Updike said. "I prayed for direction and guidance for my decision, and God gave me the support to leave my present career and to have the time and opportunity to transition into other areas of interest."

The former HU women's track and softball coach taught classes as part of the Recreation Management Corporation before becoming a full-time professor of recreational management 25 years ago. Through the years, she has taught students survival skills and camping, aquatics, leadership and arts and crafts, among other classes. The relationships she built with her students are lasting.

"I'm so sad she's leaving. I don't even want to think about it," said Jake Essig, a junior recreational management major. "Connie has always been like a mom to us. She is always asking about our families and how we're doing. This university will miss her."

Kind words were easy for her students to find in describing Updike.

"Connie might know everyone in the entire world," senior recreational management major Ethan Medley said with a smile. "I don't think I've ever seen her angry. She's always been so patient with us all."

Updike, too, reflected on fond memories shared with her students over the years.

"On one of the outdoor recreation class campouts a group of guys decided it would be fun to sneak out of the campsite in the middle of the night," she laughed. "They played hide and seek in the woods at Salamonie Reservoir. Imagine my delight when I discovered that." Despite their mischievous behavior, she waited up by the fire until her students returned.

She also fondly recalled a J-term camp leadership class offered through the recreation management program at Camp Living Waters in Michigan the class was available thanks to the camp director Olinda Barnes, a 1977 graduate of Huntington University.

"We had many memorable experiences from that class, whether it was the classes held in the mornings, visitations to other camps in the afternoons, tubing at night on the snow-covered hill, crazy times at meals or quiet conversations by the fire in the lodge," she said.

Aside from the praise of her students and memories of their time spent together, Updike also leaves HU with considerable accolades. She was recognized as the Recreational Professional of the Year by the Indiana Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in 2007, and again in 2008 by the Midwest Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Updike leaves her department as it embraces new changes. Physical education is no longer offered by the department, but sport management will be offered as a new major this fall.

With new ventures coming for her students in the program, Updike feels ready to leave, but blessed that she could be an educator at HU for so long.

"The opportunity to watch an individual mature mentally and emotionally is an awesome thing to be a part of," she said. "It is great when former students contact me to let me know how their lives are and what they are doing. I think that is God's way of letting me know, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.'"