The Hechts did not expect to end up at Augustana.
They first came to Augie on their own as students. Carmen Hecht grew up in the Twin Cities, coming to Augie to play volleyball. Mark Hecht spent most of his early life in Nebraska before his family moved to South Dakota.
But during his senior year at Augustana, Mark met a woman who changed his life.
When Sherri, a freshman girl from Mark’s hometown of Menno, moved onto campus, he went to check in on her. There, he met Sherri’s roommate, Carmen.
With about a month left of the 1984 school year, they finally went on their first date.
For four years, three of which Carmen was in school, Mark taught and coached in Aurora, Nebraska. “I thought that was where the Lord wanted me, what he shaped me for,” Mark said.
In 1987, after Carmen graduated, they tied the knot.
When the Elmen Center construction was finishing up in August 1988, Mark agreed to become the first Director of Recreational (Rec) Services. Carmen became the head volleyball coach the same year, becoming Recreation Coordinator two years later.
And They’ve Been Here Ever Since
“We feel like this is our mission field,” Carmen said. “This is where we have the opportunity to make the most impact.”
Throughout their 31 years on staff, the Hechts have built and nurtured Rec Services into what it is today.
With their perseverance, Carmen and Mark have grown Rec Services from about 30 work-study staff and a $5,000 yearly budget to around 140 employees and a budget of $160,000, Mark said. They want to build up from there with ambitions for new buildings and outdoor equipment on their minds.
Their impact is just as clear in the students around them.
“They have fostered an environment that makes you want to be there and want to partake in what their mission is,” senior Maggie Oberg, Rec Services employee, gushed.
They have helped countless students grow into who they are today.
“That’s the part that we continue to enjoy,” Mark said. “We get to experience life with the students — the successes and joys and the failure and struggles.”
Watching and guiding students through all their years at Augustana is one of the couple’s favorite things.
“Often times, they come in shy and unsure, and you just see their confidence level increase,” Carmen said. “It’s a fun transformation to see.”
Balancing each other’s strengths
Mark has a way with people. He presents himself in a friendly, approachable manner. In conversation, he makes people feel important.
“If you go in for a meeting with him, expect to be there at least 10 minutes longer than you were planning on,” Oberg said.
It’s an accurate estimate. Before they let anyone leave the room, they will get to know that person.
“He just has a natural gift for interacting with people,” Oberg said. “You can tell by just how overjoyed he gets when he gets to talk to and meet new people.”
New freshman staff members are floored when they speak to Mark, Oberg said. “They’ll come up to [other staff] and say, ‘he didn’t even meet me, and he knew my name.’”
The couple’s desire to get to know each student they meet is clear. It is one of their favorite parts of working on campus.
“They will always take the time to listen and care for whoever it be. They just want to grow into people,” their son and intramural director Cale Hecht said.
Carmen is organized, as Mark, Cale and Oberg attested.
“She’s the most organized person I know; she always knows what’s going on,” Oberg said. “That’s something I respect so highly. I wish I had my crap together that well.”
Is Mark detail-oriented? Oberg grinned as she shared her favorite memory about the couple.
The employees asked Mark a telling question: If he were to get Carmen anything for her birthday with no budget, what would it be and why?
Carmen, who was certain he wouldn’t get the right answer, eagerly waited with the students for Mark’s reply.
“I think I’d get her a fence,” Mark said.
Racing across the room to wrap him in a hug, Carmen’s face broke out in a smile. “I’ve always wanted a fence!”
Fence or no fence, Carmen and Mark continue to have fun competing with students in intramurals today.
“They want to see people get involved, and you see that majorly with intramurals,” Cale laughed. “They’ll do it until they can’t.”
For 31 years, Carmen and Mark have dedicated themselves to Rec Services and its students.
“I don’t think they get enough recognition for what they do out of the good of their hearts,” Oberg said. “They make it a life thing, not a job thing.”
Cale sees his parents and Rec Services as one in the same.
Without Carmen and Mark, Rec Services would not be the same, Oberg said. “They make Rec Services, Rec Services.”