In Memory of Lana (1941–2021)

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On June 16, 2021, PBS lost one of its most beloved staff members, Human Resources Coordinator Lana Fish. Lana began working for PBS as clinic coordinator in October of 1983 working for then Clinical Science Program Director Dick McFall. In 1988 she became the supervisor to all PBS administrative assistants. She left briefly in 1990 to work outside IU, but returned to the same position two years later, before taking on the human resources position in 1994. She remained in this role until her sudden death just over a year ago.

Lana was the indispensable confidant to four successive PBS chairs, countless staff, graduate students, and faculty members both young and old. Current chair Bill Hetrick observes that this daughter of a limestone stonecutter was in fact the bedrock of the department.

“From the beginning of my own time in the department,” he explains, “I recognized how central she was to all our operations. It wasn’t just because of the position she held. It was the pulse she had on the department’s inner workings. She was keyed into the dynamics within the staff, their strengths, and the issues that could lead to a better work environment and a greater sense of community.”

Humble and unassuming in her demeanor, she nonetheless emanated a wisdom, warmth and kindness, qualities recognized universally by her colleagues.

Inside PBS

“She was the absolute bright spot in my day at PBS. She made me feel so appreciated and valued,” wrote LeAnna Faubion, the PBS main office coordinator.

 

PBS main office coordinator LeAnna Faubion speaks about Lana at the bench dedication event

 

“Lana was indeed the heart and soul of the department for decades,” wrote PBS Professor Ed Hirt. “It is hard to envision PBS without her. She made everyone's day brighter with her kindness and warmth.”

“How amazing that so many of us (possibly all of us) felt an unusually strong bond with or extraordinary appreciation for Lana,” said PBS Professor Jeff Alberts. “Her kindness, goodness, and utter competence at enhancing our lives – sometimes 'saving' mine (yours too?) – was off-scale.”

Or as then PBS graduate student Nancy Lundin recalled: “I remember when I started grad school 6 years ago and went to her office bewildered about how to do my taxes. She was, I’m sure, busy with more important things, but dropped everything to help me. I will miss her warmth, humor, and wisdom.”

And from PBS Teaching Professor Lisa Thomassen: “In challenging times in my life, she was kind of a north star. She’s talked me off the ledge so many times and gave me such good perspective. She would always emphasize the importance of my work and was always there to let me know that I mattered.”

In Lana, Jack Bates reflected, “The department really lost something extraordinary. It was like having a friend in the office for everyone. She had a deep human connection to people. You always felt as if you got personal treatment. And you did. She was really an upright person, but she put the person first. How does someone get to that level of emotional and moral intelligence?”

 

It was like having a friend in the office for everyone. She had a deep human connection to people.

Beyond PBS

These qualities were recognized by Lana’s colleagues across the IU Bloomington campus as well.

From Joanna Snyder in the IU Office of International Services: “Lana has been one of our most trusted and favorite departmental contacts over the years.”

From Kathy Shepley in the College Office of Human Resources: “Lana was such an extraordinary lady. She made so many feel they were special. That was part of her genuine, caring way.”

And Kim Kercheval in the College Finance Office: “What a treasure Lana was and how much we will all miss her kindness and knowledge.”

. . . And across the decades

“I can’t tell you any funny stories. She was just a wonderful person.” said Harriet Kenny, who worked in PBS from 1973 to 1994 and has worked at IU for almost 52 years. “That is what anyone who has worked with her will tell you.” Kenny first interviewed Lana for the clinic position in 1983. The two remained close friends, staying in touch “almost weekly,” Kenney recalled, “even during the pandemic.”

It’s a common refrain: “I cannot recall any particular stories,” explained Washington University professor Tom Oltmanns, who served as an assistant and associate professor in PBS from 1976-1985. “I don’t really have specific memories.” And yet, he continues, “She had just the right touch managing faculty, students, and grad students. She wasn’t judgmental. You could say, ‘This is bothering me,’ and she would calm you down and find a solution. She had so much common sense. People trusted her and respected her and in a totally professional way felt close to her like she cared about all of us.”

 

. . . everything about life in the department was infinitely better because of her . . .

 

And as Oltmanns’ PBS colleague at the time, Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University confirmed, “Tom and I agreed. There aren't ‘Lana stories’ in the sense of drama and adventure. Rather, everything about life in the department was infinitely better because of her. I arrived at IU a newly minted Ph.D., entirely unsure about my ability to do my job. Lana was a rock. She was also gentle, kind, and compassionate.”

Recognition

Opportunities among the staff for special recognition may be rare but Lana received those that were available.

In 2013 she received an IU Staff Merit Award. The letters of support from professors Linda Smith and Dick McFall take the art of praise to a surprising new level. As Smith wrote,

“Lana is – as are probably all the nominees – hard working, a problem solver, dedicated, smart, and a person who makes everyone working with her better. But Lana has some qualities that go beyond excellence and have made Psychological and Brain Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the University, perhaps even the world, work better. I do not exaggerate here. My knowledge of Lana is long and deep: She helped me many times as a faculty member; she has helped my students and post-docs, and during my seven years as chair, she was my wise mentor. Many people say I was a pretty good chair; but truly, Lana Fish taught me and watched over me, and mentored me through all the hard stuff.”

McFall is no less forthcoming.

“It was my good fortune,” he explained, “after moving from the University of Wisconsin to Indiana University in 1979 as the director of IU’s doctoral program in clinical psychology, to have hired Lana to rejoin the staff as the clinic coordinator. This proved to be one of the best decisions of my career. Lana quickly emerged as the lynchpin of the program.

 

Professor Emeritus Dick McFall describes Lana’s impact on him and the department

 

“In my 48 years as a faculty member (now emeritus) at two universities, Lana Fish stands head and shoulders above all others as the very best professional staff person with whom I ever have worked. It is impossible to convey in a one-page letter how truly exceptional she is. Quite simply, she is widely recognized by all who’ve worked with her as the department’s most dedicated, caring, cheerful, unselfish, reliable, competent, and beloved staff member.”

In 2017 she was also the first recipient of the Audrey Newcomb and David Garraghty Staff Recognition Award, an internal PBS staff award established by Preston and Lori Garraghty.

Family life

Lana loved to travel. Each fall when her workload lightened up, Lana and her family would go camping. They went to national parks and to beaches, eventually visiting 48 of the 50 states, all but Hawaii and Alaska. “We started with a tent,” said her daughter Lisa Fish. “Then a popup camper. Then a pull behind camper. Lana loved the ocean but didn’t like the mountains too well. She didn’t like the height. She was a little fearful of going up those steep mountain roads. One of her favorite trips was to the Oregon coast.”

 

Lana’s family delivering remarks at the bench dedication

 

In the evenings at home, they would sit in a little screened-in room outside the house, where Lana loved to play games or do puzzles. She also read more books in a week, Lisa recounted, than most people read in a year – all mysteries.

Growing up in Bedford, Lana took piano lessons and was active in girl scouts. She was always a leader in the class, either treasurer or secretary or some other position throughout high school. And she was always at the top of her class. She played clarinet in band throughout junior high and high school. Her husband Jim remembers the first time he saw Lana during their sophomore year in high school. She was walking to band practice. And that was it. They were 18 years old when they got married.

Lana had a strong artistic bent. Lisa, who has published 24 romantic suspense novels under the pseudonym Velvet Vaughn, attributes her writing talents to her mother, who often helped Lisa with her stories, and was always her “editor and sounding board.” Her sister, Kristy Fish Overton, said Lisa, took after Lana musically. Lana was planning to paint when she retired. She always loved to draw.

Remembering a friend

Lana, according to PBS assistant professor Ben Motz, never fit the stereotypes one might have imposed on her. It was partly evident in the hug she gave him when he returned to the department in 2008 to become a lecturer: “Imagine getting a hug from the HR person. That would never happen.”

Ben had been an undergraduate with a B.S. in cognitive science, graduating in 2002, and first got to know Lana when he worked for PBS as an hourly technician and then as lab manager in Professor Jeff Alberts lab. When Ben walked into Lana’s office in 2008 to be greeted with a hug, “It was such a forward example of how Lana made PBS more than just a workplace,” he explains. “Lana made people feel at home as best as she possibly could and tried to make this a home away from home in all her actions.”

Ben also maintains, as others do, that Lana likewise had a humorously subversive side. Ben had a device that he used for psych demos in his introductory psych class. Called an “airzooka,” it shot gusts of air from a large barrel. One day he was showing it off in the main office and decided to use it against Lana. The joke, he said, “set off a multiyear war. I would be sitting in the main office, waiting for a meeting with Linda or Bill, and she would shoot me with a rubber band. Or she would come to the second floor and blindside me in my office. Lana was always more colorful than what you might expect of someone who looks like a Hoosier grandmother. She was even a little bit ageless.”

Yet, despite her actual age, news of her death came as a shock.

It had only been two days before her death, Ben recalls, that he had been walking from the building to the parking lot with her. “Everything was normal, rubber bands and everything.” But this time, it seems, everyone was blindsided.

 

Memory book given to Lana’s family This effort was organized by PBS Senior Lecturer Irene Vlachos-Weber, and a number of faculty and staff within PBS contributed to the book.

 

_____

Lana is survived by her husband Jim, two daughters, Lisa and Kristy, a granddaughter Alexis Overton and an older sister, Paula Hammerquist, in Seattle. By all accounts, she was an extraordinary woman, a quintessential Hoosier, and a person in whom all can take pride.

Bench dedication ceremony

Lana’s husband, two daughters, and grandchild joined us as we dedicated a beautiful limestone bench erected in Lana’s honor (adjacent to the limestone brain) and shared our memories of this once-in-a-lifetime colleague. The event was held on June 17, 2022.

 

Honor Lana with a gift

The Lana Gayle Fish Psychological and Brain Sciences Staff Support Fund endowment

The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences is pleased to formally launch the fundraising campaign for the Lana Gayle Fish PBS Staff Support Fund endowment. This fund was created in honor of dearly beloved, long-time Human Resources Coordinator, Lana Fish, specifically to support PBS staff. Our goal is to raise at least $25,000, which is the minimum necessary to endow the funds.

The funds raised will go towards the following types of support for PBS staff members:

  • Providing salary performance bonuses
  • Professional development, such as workshops, conferences, membership dues
  • General support of staff

Lana was warm and kind to everyone, but her passion was caring for the personal and professional wellbeing of the staff here at PBS. If you share Lana’s passion, please consider donating to this fund!

The Indiana University Foundation solicits tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of Indiana University and is registered to solicit charitable contributions in all states requiring registration. Please review our full disclosure statement.