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June 5, 2003

Ceil Nedeloff: The Voice of Telecommunications

Director of Telecommunications George Vitak remembers colleague Ceil Nedeloff, who worked in the Telecommunications office from 1966 to 1992. Nedeloff died on April 16, 2003.

I was asked to become involved in campus voice operations 17 years ago. My acceptance of that charge sent me to the basement area of Central Plant, down a dimly lit stairwell, through even a less illuminated hallway, past storage drums of something, to the entrance to a room--a well lit office definitely out of place with the surroundings. The sole occupant…Ceil Nedeloff.

To my surprise, there actually was an embodiment of the voice that resolved problems with those funny new telephones named after a place in Italy. A friendly person, unpretentious, one who knew how to get the task completed, someone who truly understood the words customer service. I, of course, was the new boss and I knew unequivocally how we were going to establish a regimen, a routine, to streamline the operation. Ceil smiled and informed me that no two days would ever be the same in my newly chosen profession. Sure!

Seventeen years later, I've had 6,205 days of never ending change and excitement. Ceil had an innate wisdom, a very down to earth style, that were simply marvelous. She quickly became a coworker, a mentor, a friend.

Ceil was at UMBC on opening day in 1966, as the campus operator, seated at a traditional switchboard, headset on, completing calls by actually plugging a cord into the correct circuit. Her handwritten log shows the first outbound call she handled…a call to Rockville from extension 245, by an assistant professor in the English department named Larry Lasher.

As the call volume grew, another switchboard was added, student operators joined the staff, the process became automated with on-premise Centrex, the campus moved into the independence of the PBX realm. Ceil was there for the changes, and played a part in all things voice. While her operator days were relatively short, there were always questions or requests being called in. Ceil was the voice on that other end of the line and nearly all knew that voice during their time at UMBC. Few, if any, were not well served when they called and more than a few friendships developed over the years.

Ceil was old Bell (Atlantic) and knew how The Telephone Company actually worked. One of her duties was the review of monthly phone charges. A commercial telephone bill, ours weighs 3.7 pounds, and the associated Customer Service Record, another 1 pound, is a compilation of acronyms, abbreviations, technical terms and incantations. In the late 1980's, the University hired an auditing firm to review, and recoup, the accumulated overcharges commonly associated with that billing process. Some of the campuses enjoyed a significant windfall that year. UMBC had to settle for 63 cents. This was Ceil's world and, far beyond the billing, if something was needed from Bell Atlantic, a phone call, or visit, to an old Bell friend, produced an amazingly quick response. UMBC was well served when it came to telecommunications.

I imagine there are still a few at UMBC who share fond memories of this lovely, charming person. I have a personal favorite concerning her reaction to a fire alarm at 2 a.m. while we were away for ROLM training in 1987. I suspect there are numerous others. Moving into telecommunications was a big challenge for me that turned out to be a lot easier because of the person in that basement room. I became much wiser by simply listening. We became a department in 1989 and Ceil was there. She helped me hire our first employee, an old Bell technician, and saw the department beginning to take on form and substance as additional staff were hired and new responsibilities were added.

Ceil retired at the end of 1992. She loved family life and I'm happy that she had the opportunity to have those years of enjoyment. I hope her decision to leave her UMBC family was made easier by what she saw developing. Her legacy, the telephone office that for most of UMBC's history consisted of one staff member known mainly as a voice on the phone, had reached fruition. Time may have silenced that voice but the results of Ceil's efforts continue to grow and prosper.

Ceil's voice shall remain strong in the department's memory, recalled with unfailing appreciation, respect and gratitude. We shall never forget our heritage and the one voice that was there on day one and throughout the decades that defined UMBC.

Photo caption: Ceil Nedeloff (second from left) and colleagues mark 10 years of service at UMBC. Also pictured in the photo, taken in 1977, are Phil Martin, Doris Maygers, Julie Enos, Kay Keafawver, Sue Kemp (Thompson), and Simmona Simmons-Hodo.

Posted by dwinds1 at June 5, 2003 12:00 AM