The University of the Virgin Islands community is expected to turn out en masse Friday to celebrate the life of former student activities coordinator Junie Violenes, whose recent, unexpected death has been described by her colleagues as a "terrible loss" for the tight-knit college.
A memorial in Violenes’ honor is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Student Activities Center on UVI’s St. Thomas campus. The service will include oral tributes, a candle lighting, poetry reading and music.
"We expect a lot of people to show up," Dr. Doris Battiste, Violenes’ former supervisor, said Friday. "We expect the entire UVI community to come out and to see an outpouring of love and support for her and her family."
After earning her bachelor’s degree from the college in 1984 and a master’s degree in public administration in 1991, Violenes stayed on to begin her career at UVI, where she worked as the student activities supervisor for 24 years. Both Battiste and UVI’s public relations director Patrice Johnson said Friday that Violenes was loved by both the students and staff, and displayed a youthful and enthusiastic spirit in everything she did.
Even when Violenes left the college last year to work at the V.I. Supreme Court, she was still a frequent visitor to the campus and often present at UVI functions and student events. At a recent unveiling for a student’s recent publishing of creative work, for example, Violenes was there to shower praise and offer words of wisdom, Johnson said.
"Many of the students found her to be a mentor, someone on whom they could depend to give them inspiration," Johnson said. "When they didn’t know they could accomplish something, they would field things through her. Junie Violenes was the one who told them, ‘yes, you can.’"
Johnson said she also counted Violenes as a friend, and, among other things, would work out with her at UVI’s new Wellness Center after classes.
"It was such a joy to go there after work – that’s where a lot of us would go at the end of the day to unwind," Johnson said. "So we were all really shocked to hear that she may have had a heart attack, because she was out there, in Zumba class, always working out in the weight room."
Battiste also described Violenes’ death last Thursday at the age of 48, as "shocking."
"It’s definitely a great, great loss for us," she said. Battiste said Violenes spearheaded many initiatives under the Student Affairs office, including the college’s first intercollegiate debate and student getaways to Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke.
"I think she was extremely close to all of the students," Battiste said. "My entire staff, we’re all quite shaken up over this."
Friday afternoon’s memorial will be held in the last place Violenes worked on campus – the Student Activities Center, Battiste added, saying that those who attend will be "reminiscing and remembering all the great things" Violenes did for the UVI community.
"Her spirit should live on forever with us," Battiste said.
May would have marked a year for Violenes at the V.I. Supreme Court, where she worked as executive assistant to the court’s executive director, attorney Glenda Lake, who said Friday that she was "very pleased" when Violenes came aboard.
"I was very pleased because I knew her and of her work ethic, her intelligence, her skills and I knew she could assist me here," Lake said. "And when she came on board, she was always so happy, so pleasant, so cooperative. She always assisted everyone in trying to get their project off the ground, and lent her insight and ideas freely."
Lake said she had seen Violenes at an event at the Reichhold Center the night before her death.
"She was there, just her usual happy self," Lake said. "So this news was very surprising and unexpected. We are indeed very distraught about the loss and we will miss her dearly."