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Casaday’s path to helping others centers around education of all kinds

November 27, 2012

Colleen (Lyons) Casaday

Each year, five women are chosen by the Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club for Career Women’s Week. The criteria used for choosing these women are based not only on their professional efforts, but also on the contributions they’ve made to community and family. The club was founded in 1930, originally known as Punxsutawney Business & Professional Women’s Club. On Sept. 8, 1998, the club name was changed and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name of Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club, with objectives to promote growth and respect of women in the workplace; improve self-esteem in all careers; educate women; and support community projects. This article is Part II in a five-part series.

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Colleen (Lyons) Casaday was born and raised in Punxsutawney, and she feels fortunate that she and her husband, Jim, were able to remain in the town to raise their two children, son Nathan and daughter Cara.

Casaday graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a BS degree in business education, with certification in the secretarial area as well as marketing. After graduating from IUP, there were no openings in the high schools in the area, so she decided to aim her focus in another direction.

Right out of college, she went to work for Signal Finance, which was located in downtown Punxsutawney. She worked there up until the birth of her son in 1980.

After her maternity leave, she made the decision to stay at home because she really wanted to be a hands-on mom and hated the idea of leaving a baby so young. She had her daughter in 1983, but when her daughter was one year old, Casaday had to think about going back into the work force.

In September of 1984, Casaday was given the opportunity to interview for a part-time position at IUP-Punxsutawney in the library as a library assistant.

It was 20 hours per week, and she worked evenings, which meant that the children were able to be at home with their dad, and she could also be there for what she considered to be most important role of mothering.

She also could pick her kids up from school, be a homeroom mother, take her kids to the Punxsy pool in the summer and just make sure she was there for them at a moment's notice.

The library at the campus had been ignored because the only staff in the building was a part-time librarian who split his time between Punxsutawney and Indiana.

When she took her position in the library, she decided that she was going to make the library an important part of the campus, as well as the community.

There were many local residents who were doing doctoral work and needed books and scholarly journals that were very hard to find. She learned how to borrow materials through an interlibrary loan program and made sure that these individuals received all the information needed to complete their dissertations.

For several years, the Advanced Placement English class visited the campus once a year and was given the opportunity to do research and borrow materials that it would have never been able to obtain without the services of the library.

As the years went by, students on campus began to come into the library with questions for Casaday that had nothing to do with borrowing materials from the library. She began to get questions about financial aid and student bills.

If she didn't know the answer to the questions, she would call offices in Indiana and get the answers to help the students.

As she started to focus in on these issues, she realized how important it was that there was someone on campus to be able to help students with such problems. Dr. Valarie Trimarchi was dean of IUP-Punxsutawney at this time, and as what Casaday called "a champion of students," she realized the importance of a staff person in this role.

So, Trimarchi began the process of employing Casaday full-time, by having her work part-time in the library and part-time as financial aid support on campus.

Casaday credits her IUP success to Trimarchi, and in 2002, Casaday became a full-time employee on the campus as student services coordinator.

Her role was that of educator to both students and parents. The financial aid process can be very confusing to parents, but many students at IUP Punxsutawney are first-generation students, meaning that many of the parents have never heard of the FAFSA, or what is needed to be done in order to get their financial aid in order, from starting and completing the FAFSA to the verification process, to making sure that students complete entrance counseling and master promissory
notes.

One misconception that parents have is that if they complete the FAFSA, everything is paid for.

But according to Casaday, it isn't long before they realize that just may not be the case. Financial aid awards are all given based on the results of the FAFSA, and some students get quite a bit of aid, while other students get very little.

It is her job to help parents and students understand the process and how to get the additional money needed to pay for the bill. If bills are left unpaid, students may have to leave, and Casaday works very hard to make sure that students get to stay in school.

After Casaday worked a few years in this role, Trimarchi made the decision that Casaday needed to expand her duties on campus, and she was promoted to director of academic and administrative services.

She is the liaison between the IUP Financial Aid department and the Punxsutawney campus, but is also the liaison between Advising and Testing and the Punxsy campus.

This means that she makes sure those students who require disability services have their services coordinated on the Punxsutawney campus, and also ensures that student schedules are correct after taking placement tests.

These duties are only a part of her job, though. Each person on the administrative team wears many hats.

"We are a team and all work hard to make sure that everything runs smoothly through the academic year," Casaday said.

Students at IUP-Punxsutawney refer to her as "Miss Colleen," and she takes pride in the fact that during the school year, she gets to know each and every student.

After almost 30 years at IUP, Casaday has seen many students walk through those doors, and she said she is proud that so many of them who thought they would never achieve success have surprised themselves and turned out to be successful students.

Casaday laughs because she was the last class to go to kindergarten at the old West End Elementary School, went to her first year at IUP in the old West End Elementary School and now has had a 30-year career, first in the old building and now in the new Living and Learning Center.

When Casaday is not at IUP, she is very busy helping her husband Jim, who graduated from IUP with a degree in graphic design and worked at Standard Pennant for more than 20 years.

When the company was going to close in 1995, he was given the opportunity to purchase it. Standard Pennant is a 93-year-old business that creates banners, flags, chenille and screen prints and embroidery.

When you own your own business, you have to know what is going on with every aspect of the business, Casaday said. So she works in the evening to help with accounts receivable and payable and anything else that needs done.

She is a member of SS. Cosmas and Damian parish and over the years has been president and secretary of the Punxsutawney Young Women's Club.
She has also served on the board of the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center and the board of the American Cancer Society.

Recently, she has volunteered for the American Cancer Society when possible — both she and Jim try to help contribute in some way because both of their lives have been affected by cancer.

Speaking of her achievements, Casaday said her greatest reward in life is her children.

Nathan lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife, Elysia, and Cara lives in Pittsburgh — she and her fiancee Tom will be married in July 2013.

Both Casaday and her husband have worked very hard, and both of their children have realized the importance of hard work as it was modeled to them.

She said she is proud that both of the them have become "caring and wonderful people," as well as successful individuals carving out a path of their own.

Casaday added that she is very honored to be chosen as one of the five women being highlighted by the Punxsutawney Career Women's Club.

She said she has read about many wonderful women over the past several years and is so happy that she can be considered a person whom girls can look up to as a role model.

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