In a small, white photo album titled “University of Portland, The Girls!” Teresa Freemont flips through photos and memories from her 25 years of working in housekeeping at the University of Portland. She has seen generations of students grow up and has been there for them in tough times.
Supporting students as they spread their wings has been a notable part of Freemont's time at UP, however students aren’t the only ones growing up here.
“They see me grow up too, if they’re other staff,” Freemont said. “I have certainly grown here.”
She laughs and points out her old uniforms throughout the years and different hair styles she’s dawned, making her reminisce on the inside jokes she holds with each photo.
Born and raised in St. Johns, Freemont has lived in Portland her whole life. She was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years and was eager to get back to work when she joined UP’s housekeeping staff in 1997.
Freemont has “traveled” through many of UP’s dorms, including Villa Maria Hall, Christie Hall, Kenna Hall, Lund Family Hall and Mehling Hall, where she is currently positioned. She has also cleaned the on-campus president’s house. However, Kenna holds a special place in her heart after developing a close friendship with her co-worker Jody Parsons, who was working at Shipstad at the time.
Meeting on the bench in between Shipstad and Kenna, Freemont and Parsons would make the best of their break times by talking and laughing together.
“I can't stand being cold,” Freemont said, “But I would go sit with her out there and visit with her cause I loved her company.”
Parsons, who has been at UP for 13 years, met Freemont during her first day on the job. They were busy preparing the dorms for graduation weekend and Parsons was struggling to keep up with the fast-paced tasks. In the stress of the day, the more experienced Freemont was there for Parsons as a helping hand.
Parsons appreciates how Freemont is able to view difficult situations, whether personal or professional, with logic, sensibility, optimism and humor. She admires how Freemont “sees the rainbow.”
“She breaks it down and makes it workable,” Parsons said, “She puts pieces of the puzzle together.”
The friendships she has made with her coworkers are a very important part of Freemont’s job. They enjoy each others’ company and find ways to get together outside of work, whether that be Christmas parties, their children’s weddings, birthday celebrations or after work dinners.
Freemont and Parsons have not only bonded with each other, but also with the students they see in the residence halls every day. They appreciate the kindness and respect students have shown them and provide them with a safe place as they adjust to being in college.
“I just am grateful for every kind of student that takes a minute to talk to me,” Freemont said, “I've had them look for me to talk because it just gives them a safe place to talk.”
One of the many students who has sought out Teresa’s positive energy is Natalie Pycz. Pycz moved to Lund in Spring 2021 when the pandemic had reduced the amount of students living on campus. Her mother had recently passed away, and the lack of community in the dorms made this transitional period difficult for Pycz.
Whenever Pycz needed someone to talk to, Freemont was there vacuuming and ready to chat.
“Sometimes, I would be in my room and hear her vacuuming and I would be like, ‘oh okay, I’m going to go out and go to the bathroom, then I can go talk to her,’” Pycz said.
Freemont became a comforting presence to Pycz in a time of isolation. Even though they were wearing masks, she could see Freemont smiling underneath. Pycz admires her light-hearted outlook on life.
“I don't think I realized how nice to have someone who is so light-hearted,” Pycz said, “We just laughed at things because I took everything so seriously, and just smiling more, smiling at everything and anything, just because.”
That same spring semester, Freemont often spent her work breaks lounging in her white pickup truck, which Pycz recalls as one of her favorite memories of Freemont.
“I just thought that was so bad ass.”
However, when spring came around and the cherry blossoms began to bloom, Freemont would take a foldable chair out to the Student Led Community Garden. Here she would take off her socks and put her feet in the grass to practice “grounding” or “earthing.” Pycz would walk past the garden and see Freemont grounding in the sunshine, waving and smiling as she walked by.
“You can find peaceful moments everywhere,” Pycz said. “I felt like she taught me that and she taught me many other things, even if she didn't know she was teaching me.”
Through her kindness, Freemont has created a welcoming atmosphere that makes the dorms a home for students who might be missing their own homes. She values family, friends and finding one's roots.
Halloween was a time when Freemont’s own home converged with the student’s home in the dorms. For annual trick-or-treating, Fremont would bring her two children, and later grandchild, to the dorms to meet the students and get some sweet treats.
Freemont describes one Halloween when her kids made a mess playing with silly string with the students in Shipstad.
“We came walking in and one of the kids came blasting out of the door with silly string,” Freemont said. “My kids had asked me, ‘Mom, can we take our silly string?’ and I said, ‘Go ahead.’”
Outside of her work life, Freemont’s love for her family and sense of adventure has led her and her husband down new roads and bike paths.
“I love to find nooks and crannies,” Freemont said. “Like driving down the street and then go, ‘Oh, wonder what's down that road? Let's go see!’ and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
One of Freemont’s recent hobbies is researching her mother’s Native American ancestry. Through her fascination with genealogy, Freemont has traced her heritage to New Mexico. Her curiosity has motivated her and her husband to travel there and explore their history.
To Freemont, her trips to New Mexico strengthen her familial relationships and provide a welcome break from Portland’s cold weather.
“Just to go where my mom's family was from makes me feel close to her,” Freemont said.
Sydney Gannon is a reporter for The Beacon. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria Wanzek is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.