by Cori Hilsgen
Carol Howe-Veenstra recently announced plans to retire June 19, 2015 as the athletic director for the College of St. Benedict.
A national search for CSB’s next athletic director will be conducted and a replacement will be announced early next year, with the new director hopefully starting July 1.
At Howe-Veenstra’s announcement to retire, she said 30 felt like a nice number and the right time to retire both personally and professionally.
“I feel our department is at a place of strength and we have unbelievable depth and quality staff-wise,” Howe-Veenstra said in a news release. “Our administration is very supportive and, to me, this would be a dream job for someone to come into.”
She plans to finish her position strong by helping prepare for the person who will fill her shoes. Howe-Veenstra plans to organize files so the new director will know what she did when. She will leave templates of letters and other documents she used and also plans to archive some binders.
She says this is the gift she can leave for her successor. She can leave what she has done for that person to adapt as their own.
“I think in terms of what would this next person need to help them be strong as a leader,” she said.
Howe-Veenstra’s career at the college includes working as the athletic director and as a coach. She began her career at the college in 1985 as the head volleyball coach, and held that position for 15 years. She was also head softball coach for one year and coached cross country.
Coaching at CSB
Howe-Veenstra helped the St. Ben’s Blazer athletic department grow to new levels. When she arrived at the college, it was not known for its athletic programs.
CSB began competing and participating in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the fall of 1985. Its volleyball team was the first to conduct its season at Claire Lynch Hall.
In this stronger conference, CSB did not perform well at first. Howe-Veenstra said the CSB team could not have competed against the teams she had coached at the high-school level.
“I knew we had to raise the bar and we did that fast,” she said. “It was just amazing. We were 6-32 my first year – 11th in the conference. We finished second in the conference in the second year and in our third year, we won the conference.”
Howe-Veenstra credits much of the success to great recruited players.
Because of the success, people started to pay attention to the CSB athletic program. Where in the past the college had been known for its academics, fine arts and cultural pieces, it was now making news for its athletic successes.
As a coach, she stepped down with a 366-150 overall record and 11 appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. Her teams finished 176-36 in the MIAC, and went to the NCAA Sweet 16 seven times and went to the Final Four once.
In 1987, Howe-Veenstra became the athletic director, handling both duties for the athletic department until stepping down as a coach after the fall volleyball season in 1999.
“Both jobs grew so much and at some point I kept sorting out how long can I do both and do it well?” Howe-Veenstra said.
She said it was a tremendous challenge, but her strong organizational skills helped her to do both successfully. Howe-Veenstra stepped down as a coach and became the athletic director in 2000, when it became a full-time position. It was very hard for her to give up the coaching.
Working as the athletic director
Howe-Veenstra grew the department into a highly recognized women’s intercollegiate sports program in NCAA Division III. During her career, track-and-field and golf were added as varsity sports in 1987 and hockey was added in 1997.
Howe-Veenstra has been recognized often for her achievements and leadership. She earned both MIAC and NCAA Central Region Coach-of-the-Year honors twice, is honored in many halls of fame, received the CSB Extraordinary Performance Award and more.
In the 1990s, Howe-Veenstra was involved in the planning and construction process of the Haehn Campus Center.
It was exciting to be on the committee and help make decisions about the resources of how the Haehn Center would take shape. The center, although not scheduled to open until spring, opened early on the day of St. Joseph police officer Brian Klinefelter’s funeral in January 1996. Klinefelter was shot in the line of duty while attempting to arrest suspects in a liquor-store robbery.
Howe-Veenstra said the significance of being honored to host the funeral, but not yet having opened the building, shows how the staff at CSB worked with people in the area to help accommodate the thousands of people who attended the funeral.
In 1992, she helped start the Blazer Hall of Fame, which is hosted every four years, except it was delayed one year to coincide with the college’s 100th anniversary. Instead of a small annual event at homecoming, it became a larger, more recognized event that honors people in various areas.
She, herself, is a member of CSB (as coach of the 1987 volleyball team), Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Central Lakes College, charter member of Minnesota High School Volleyball Coaches and St. Cloud Tech halls of fame.
Extra duties of her position
Her positions at CSB have included night and weekend commitments. Howe-Veenstra said she really wanted to be at all home contests as much as she could, as well as a few on-the-road competitions.
“If all I do is sit in the office and work on email and other administrative work, how do our athletes know how much I care if I don’t show up?” she said. “If I occasionally get to practices and to the contests, at least they have a presence of me. This is how I show I care. If I’m watching, I can join in with the celebration of good performances, as well as the struggles when we don’t perform at the level we think we should.”
Changes throughout the years
Howe-Veenstra said she has seen many changes throughout the years, including facilities, sports, student-athlete expectations, health-care needs, faster responses through email, twitter, Facebook and more.
During her years at CSB, she has seen increased opportunity for success and role modeling in the development of CSB clinics and camps where its own athletes get to help coach, be visible, show their passion for the game and help younger girls. She said it has been a great influence when younger siblings, both boys and girls, are watching their games.
“I feel like our women carry themselves with such class,” Howe-Veenstra said. “I think over all these years, that has touched and influenced a lot of people with standards. This is who I would like to be, I can do that. I can be a great student, I can be a great athlete, I can be a great person. I can do all of that.”
Reflecting on memories made
Howe-Veenstra will always remember the victories in coaching, both when she was a coach and when she was athletic director.
“Whether it’s a huge race, overcoming a very strong opponent that we had no business beating, or our basketball team being able to be a part of their two trips to the Final Four and upsetting teams along the way, those are remarkable, ” she said. “Coaching, we had a couple of come-from-behind experiences. Being in Claire Lynch hosting regional finals many years ago, where it was two-deep around the railing, and had to tell people they couldn’t come in because we were full. Being able to coach a team I just adored in that environment was just special.”
Helping staff members grow and have “ah-ha” moments are also part of Howe-Veenstra’s good memories.
“I’m really proud to know I may have helped shape or provide a developmental piece along the way to develop them to grow,” she said. “That part has been great.”
Losing one job and gaining a new one
Howe-Veenstra came to CSB after being laid off from her teaching position at St. Cloud Tech High School. Many other teachers were also laid off due to budget cuts in the St. Cloud School District.
After graduating from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, she accepted a teaching and coaching position at Tech in 1975. Howe-Veenstra taught physical education and was the head volleyball and track-and-field coach. During her years at Tech, her volleyball teams went to the state tournament four times.
“Tech was an absolutely incredible place to start working and coaching,” Howe-Veenstra said. “I had incredible volleyball coaching experiences. We went to the state tournament right away.”
She was laid off after teaching at Tech for seven years. As a result of Title IX, a federal civil-rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, the physical education departments combined, and male teachers held most of the seniority positions in the district. Howe-Veenstra said, at the time, it was the reverse goal of Title IX and was a really difficult time for everyone.
She can still remember walking out of Tech and how she felt on her last day of work at a job she loved. After leaving Tech, she completed a master’s degree, substitute-taught, was an interim track-and-field coach at St. Cloud State University and started working at a local health club.
A former CSB volleyball coach and athletic director, who was working out at the club, encouraged Howe-Veenstra to apply for the CSB position. She did and was hired.
“I just loved being out here,” Howe-Veenstra said.
Plans for retirement
Howe-Veenstra’s husband, Steve, recently retired as a special-education teacher with the St. Cloud School District. The two met at St. Cloud Tech when she was teaching and he was an assistant basketball coach. She said they got to know each other over conversations at the former Ground Round restaurant in St. Cloud, after playing on a teacher’s basketball team together. They shared common interests of teaching, coaching and a love of the outdoors. They have been married for 34 years.
Howe-Veenstra will be 62 when she retires. She is looking forward to having some space in her life to look at options for retirement.
“It will be a good way to move into that era of my life,” Howe-Veenstra said. “I am not overly concerned as it’s the month of July when this will happen. My husband and I love the outdoors so biking, canoeing, golfing, gardening and hiking are high priorities for us. As well as, my mom is 94 and still living and I really look forward to it (time with her).”
“Next July will be an opportunity,” she said. “Things will settle in as we go into the fall. We’ll figure it out. I’m sure I’ll read some books that are stacked on my shelf, and I’m not worried about filling my time.”
The couple also plans to do some traveling, but will determine how far their resources will stretch when choosing to do so.
Howe-Veenstra said she wants to continue being a huge advocate for Blazer athletics at CSB and there are a lot of different ways she said she believes she can continue to support the program, including as a fan and as a resource. Being a checklist person and a great planner, she is getting comfortable with not needing a plan.
Howe-Veenstra grew up in Crosby-Ironton, with three sisters and a brother. Steve Howe-Veenstra grew up in St. Cloud, with one brother. The couple has one son, Ryan, 27, an aerospace engineer who works for Honeywell. Ryan married Christine Palmer, a music-physics major who performs in several bands and works for Harrelson Trumpet. They live in Plymouth. The two met in a summer research program in China when he was a St. John’s University student and she was a CSB student.
Howe-Veenstra said both stretch her to learn about their careers and she feels their work is so important.
The Howe-Veenstras also have a yellow lab, Duke, that loves the outdoors.
Advice for her successor
Howe-Veenstra says it’s freeing to know she does not have to help find her successor and says she can answer questions about her position if asked. She said she believes it’s a great opportunity for campus leaders to review what leadership needs for the position moving forward. The search committee for her successor will be co-chaired by CSB’s faculty athletic representative LuAnn Reif and SJU’s athletic director Tom Stock.
“Carol has served St. Ben’s and women’s intercollegiate athletics so very well,” Stock said. “She has built a great staff and established a wonderful program. Because of her work, the job is a plum. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
“There will be talents, gifts and experience that are needed in the next 10 years,” Howe-Veenstra said. “That is going to be great and exciting. Some of it could be very different, but a lot will be the same because someone coming in can’t change this environment of where people truly support each other and are in such partnership to help each other out.”
She said the search committee will find people who are really tied into the Benedictine values and everything liberal arts learning stands for.
Howe-Veenstra gives the following advice to her successor.
“Wake up every day, come to work and enjoy it,” she said. “The opportunity to connect with people who really care about your success will be working with you. Embrace this community and enjoy the different gifts that people have to offer and continue to grow in your strengths during your time here.”
CSB vice president for student development Mary Geller said in a news release that Howe-Veenstra has grown a phenomenal women’s intercollegiate sports program, one that would put their program up against any program. She said she believes Howe-Veenstra’s legacy is she has built one of the best programs for women in college sports.
photo by Cori Hilsgen
Carol Howe-Veenstra admires flowers given to her by Mary Geller, the College of St. Benedict vice president of student development, after Howe-Veenstra recently announced her plan to retire after 30 years.
Carol Howe-Veenstra is shown in 1987 holding the first MIAC Championship trophy.
Carol Howe-Veenstra (left) is shown in 1990 with Sr. Lois Wedl, the College of St. Benedict’s #1 Blazer fan.