People who care

“UMRA can ensure that when you have given your life's work to the U, that you continue as a valued member of the U community.” —Kathleen O’Brien

There are some very special UMRA volunteers who reach out to contact individual members and/or our families with personal notes in times of grief and loss. They are the members of the UMRA Cares Committee, and for the past five years Kathleen O’Brien has led this important work with exceptional dedication and grace in her role as committee chair, from which she will be stepping down at the end of May. 

About her work with the committee, Kathleen told me recently: “Over 50 years ago, I joined the U community as a grad student in history. Because of my education, work assignments, and friendships in our community, I have had professional career and personal experiences that I could never have imagined. My assignment in the UMRA Cares Committee has given me the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues, to support them during difficult times and life transitions, and to honor our UMN colleagues when they passed. For me this has been compelling work and gratifying service.” 

Kathleen retired from the University in 2012. Her tenure at the U included serving as vice president for University Services (2002–12) and chief of staff to President Nils Hasselmo (1989–94). Prior to her work at the U, she was elected three times to represent the University and its communities on the Minneapolis City Council (1982–89) and served for eight years as chief administrator for Minneapolis (1994–02). She remains deeply engaged in civic affairs and is currently co-chairing the work group helping Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey weigh options for the city’s new form of government.

“The Cares Committee regularly hears from U retirees and/or their families who express their gratitude for UMRA's recognition of their loved one's service to the U; they value UMRA's personal support at this time of loss. For many retirees, their work for the U was a central part of their lives. I have heard from some people that when they retired, they never heard from the U again." 

Serving together, sharing a commitment
The committee was created in 2013 by UMRA members Earl Nolting and the late Van Linck. The members learned from each other and from University of Minnesota experts about the phases of aging. Eventually, the committee’s work inspired the monthly programs, known as Living Well Workshops, that are now a regular feature of UMRA.

In addition to reaching out to UMRA members and families in times of grief and loss, the committee also facilitates modest contributions from UMRA to the memorials chosen by bereaved families, and the chair writes the monthly “In remembrance” article published in the UMRA News.

Helen Carlson is another of the founding members of the committee. For her, it has been satisfying to develop ideas and plan for workshops and to learn about caregiving and preparing for grief—something that became especially relevant when her spouse died after becoming gravely ill. Today, she appreciates the opportunity to connect with other UMRA members, and to honor the memory of the deceased through contact with their families. She enjoys being able to do her committee work from home.

For Nancy Helmich, the satisfaction from her work on the committee comes from providing notes of comfort to families and acknowledging their losses.

All three members also find satisfaction in serving together and sharing a commitment to the assignment.

We owe Kathleen O’Brien a big thanks for leading this important work for UMRA. She has generously offered to be available to orient whoever succeeds her as chair. Both Helen Carlson and Nancy Helmich, fortunately for us, are committed to continuing their work on the committee.  

If you are interested in serving on the UMRA Cares Committee as a member or its chair, I would like to hear from you. It’s a special assignment, and our organization is full of people who care. 

—Jan Morlock, UMRA president, [email protected]



The election of UMRA officers and new board members for 2024–25 will be conducted via an online poll from May 13 to 19, with the results to be announced at our annual meeting on May 21. Look for the ballot in your email inbox on May 13. Diane Young has been nominated to be president-elect.