A family affair

At MU, Columbia’s largest employer, being related to
or living near co-workers is not uncommon
Friday, November 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:15 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Before many college students hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks, Marla Applebaum Wilcox has parked her car in the Hitt Street garage and headed into Jesse Hall.

At 7:45 a.m., she makes her way to the ice machine for her traditional morning tea. With a cup in hand, she continues her routine, walking one floor down from her office in 128 Jesse Hall to chat with a favorite fellow employee, her husband, Dale Wilcox.

Because MU is the largest employer in Columbia, it’s not unusual for neighbors or family members to work for the university. In some cases, entire families are on MU’s payroll. Working at the same institution gives family members a better sense of what’s going on in one another’s lives because their roles are more integrated, said Amy Wilkins, an MU associate professor of sociology.

Dale Wilcox has been with MU since 1979, first as an adviser in the College of Arts and Science and now as an administrator monitoring an automated system that tracks students’ graduation requirements. He even met his wife at MU in 1983.

“When a new Arts and Science dean arrived from Detroit, he brought Marla along as an employee,” Dale Wilcox said.

The couple married in 1984, and although they work in different departments, their paths cross frequently. However, they don’t share a morning commute.

“We keep different hours — and besides, I want my car,” said Marla Applebaum Wilcox, who works in the vice provost for Undergraduate Studies’ office.

Unlike the Wilcoxes, the mother-daughter team of Jenna Sapp and Linda Moeller often share a morning ride. When Sapp was a teenager, she would accompany her mother to work when school wasn’t in session. These visits made her like the atmosphere at MU, Sapp said, and taught her about the job before she began working at the university in 1991.

Now, more then a decade later, mother and daughter continue to carpool to MU. Every day, Moeller, an MU employee since 1970, makes the drive from her home in Jefferson City to her daughter’s home in Ashland.

“Some of the best quality time together is spent to and from work,” Moeller said.

The similarities between Moeller and Sapp extend beyond their mother-daughter relationship and roles as MU employees. Moeller is an assistant administrative manager in the College of Arts and Science, and Sapp has a similar job as administrative associate in the department of romance languages. Although they are not in the same department, they attend the same division meetings.

“I think it’s nice,” Moeller said. “We can talk about fiscal issues because we talk the same lingo.” Sapp added that family and friends sometimes have no idea what they’re discussing.

Wilkins, the sociologist, said the bond between families who work together can be both beneficial and detrimental to the relationship.

“While the family members can have a greater connection, working together can also expand the number of things over which people have competition about,” Wilkins said.

Although both women and men may experience tension when connectedness edges toward invasion of privacy, Wilkins said working together at the university, as opposed to a smaller company, creates an opportunity for families to establish different boundaries.

“The job of a professor is more autonomous, so they can more easily establish their own boundaries,” Wilkins said.

Craig Frisby is an associate professor in counseling psychology, while his wife, Cynthia Frisby, is an associate professor of advertising. She doesn’t run into her husband often during the school day, although they might see each other in passing.

“The nature of my job limits me to my working and advising students in my office and teaching classes, so I don’t really interact on a regular basis with professors outside of my college,” Craig Frisby said.

Although they teach in different colleges, the Frisbys have attempted to collaborate on a project together.

“He works with learning styles and I work in advertising, so we tried to do a project about the impact of outdoor advertising and billboards on urban kids, but we don’t have a lot of time to discuss work once we’re home,” Cynthia Frisby said.

From coordinating vacation schedules to teaching the same students to understanding workplace lingo, there are benefits to sharing the triumphs and turmoil of a job environment with a close relative. Dale Wilcox said working at the same institution as his wife positively affects their children, too.

“If one of our daughters was sick, we could trade off working the morning and the afternoon so that someone was always with her and we both weren’t out of the office all day,” he said.

Families agree that probably the most important benefit to being co-employed by the university is the larger sense of family MU creates. By celebrating MU’s varied traditions, employees share with their spouses, children and other relatives an atmosphere that goes beyond punching the time clock.

Dale Wilcox and Marla Applebaum Wilcox have celebrated Homecoming and house decorations with their children throughout the years. Cynthia Frisby often brings her children to test reviews, and some of her former students are her baby sitters. Some of her children’s soccer coaches worked for MU.

“I want my kids to see that college can be fun,” she said.

Sapp thinks the relationship with her mother benefits from working together. Her mother agrees.

“I raised my children by working here,” Moeller said.

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