Friends, family, former students and colleagues of Jo McMullen-Boyer gathered Aug. 31 in St. Cloud State University’s Ritsche Auditorium to celebrate her life of purpose and accomplishment, courage and generosity of spirit that cancer ended at age 54.
Jo had opened and closed her career at the top, serving as KVSC’s second-ever station manager for more than three decades.
Jo’s life was intertwined with SCSU from childhood. Her dad was a chemistry professor at SCSU, and she came to campus in the late ’80s to begin to make her mark on the local broadcast, music and arts scene with infectious enthusiasm and fierce professionalism.
“I like to think that it was because her fiery spirit – her intensity for life – her infinite curiosity – her ability to talk to anyone, anywhere – sometimes stubbornness – those traits that made Jo the person we loved – that those traits were present from the very beginning,” said Lisa Foss ’01 ’04, who remained Jo’s close friend from the time they were students through decades as colleagues at St. Cloud State.
A 1991 mass communications graduate, Jo was given responsibility at age 21 for leading the single campus radio station and applying her education, talent and incredible enthusiasm to transforming it into eight FM stations on a digital platform that brought in listeners from far and wide – a respected community resource for music, news and diverse programming that truly is “Your sound alternative.”
But it was transforming lives at the KVSC end of downstairs Stewart Hall that gave her the most career satisfaction.
When she retired from her position in April to spend more time with her family, Jo said she considered her greatest success as manager of KVSC to be the development and achievements of the more than 1,000 students and community members who had been part of the radio station during her tenure. She said the best part of her job was watching and helping new on-air hosts and student leaders find their radio voice and their confidence.
Upon her death, tributes from former students were a testament to her impact.
“Jo mentored me at KVSC and thereafter,” wrote Judi Gay ’98. “She was a person who opened doors for people to pursue dreams and goals. Through her welcoming spirit, as well as skills and drive – she made the world a better place.”
“Jo hired me as a DJ more than 20 years ago, and since then served as a trusted mentor, colleague and friend,” wrote Heidi Everett ’92 ’94, now a member of the Department of Mass Communications faculty at SCSU. “She had the most captivating voice. Her can-do spirit and contagious laugh were uplifting.”
“Jo exemplified the greatest strength of our University – our people who teach and mentor and serve to help students discover their individual capabilities and achieve their full potential,” said President Robbyn Wacker.
“Like me, ‘Mama Jo’ truly cared for our students on a personal level,” said Jim Gray, director of operations at KVSC and team partner with Jo for 27 years. “She knew that their success was dependent on more than just passing a class or learning a skill. She was more than an educator; she was a life coach.”
The team made KVSC a learning environment, a place to discover potential, develop skills and love of media on state-of-the-art equipment in a professional environment.
“She was a person who opened doors for people to pursue dreams and goals. Through her welcoming spirit, as well as skills and drive – she made the world a better place.” — Judi Gay ’98
Prospective and current students and alumni felt the warmth of Jo’s enthusiasm for good radio and the professionalism she applied to her work.
“She was a great ambassador for KVSC and the University,” said Dale Zacher, professor of mass communications, who was chair of the department during Jo’s last nine years at KVSC. He often brought prospective students to Jo for a station tour.
“She would literally drop everything she was working on and come out with a smile and engaging conversation that began with, ‘Where are you from?’” Zacher said.
Jo reached out to former students who willingly came back for KVSC reunions and to share their experiences as broadcast professionals in the “Be the Broadcaster” panel discussions she started seven years ago as a teaching tool.
“To KVSC alumni, she was the person you could always reconnect with,” Zacher said.
KVSC’s most far-reaching campus and community/alumni engagement event remains the legendary Trivia Weekend, which Jo and her team transformed from a fun February activity for winter-weary students in SCSU residence halls into an event involving hundreds of competitors and volunteers. With its digital reach, students, alumni and friends of KVSC from near and far came together year after year to compete in the 50-hour marathon.
Jo also applied her love of music and the arts to leadership roles in the local arts community and to innovative entertainment opportunities, including speakers and concerts on campus and off. When there were opportunities to engage with the community and develop partnerships with the arts community, she followed through with her signature enthusiasm.
She pursued grants to support Granite City Radio Theatre, now in its 12th season, and relished producing interviews with notable guests. She was immensely proud of KVSC’s first podcast, featuring Holocaust survivor Dr. Henry Oertelt and based on his book detailing how he survived five Nazi concentration camps. She organized Oertelt’s final public presentation to an overflow audience in Ritsche Auditorium, where he shared his life story with students, staff and members of the community.
She was a member and past president of the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations, an organization which recognized her with a lifetime achievement award for her unrelenting vision for how public radio and the arts can bring people together and contribute to the vitality of their communities. She also served on the Minnesota Associated Press Broadcasters board. Jo never forgot the importance of truth in journalism as she advised student news producers and broadcasters.
“She had the most captivating voice. Her can-do spirit and contagious laugh were uplifting.” — Heidi Everett ’92 ’94
Like so many of her colleagues at SCSU, Jo had the vision and drive, creativity and skill to take her experience to other places, but she loved investing her life work in KVSC and the students she mentored.
“She knew it was really satisfying to trace a line between the work you’re doing and the impact it has on your students and your community,” said Abby Faulkner, who became friends with Jo while working in local media, including WJON and the St. Cloud Times. “She realized she was helping to form the next generation of media.”