Work hard, play hard and follow your passion.
That's the credo Marie Childress follows, and it has worked well during her 26 years at the U. of I.'s College of Veterinary Medicine. She has spent nearly the last 10 years in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the last three as a business manager I.
She was hired as an accountant technician in the business office in 1987 and in 1990 moved to the college's Comparative Biosciences Division for 14 years before starting at the diagnostics lab in 2004.
"I've moved around a little but it's all been in this college," she said. "This is my home; I never wanted to be anyplace else."
Childress said she enjoys the challenge of her job, which has her doing a variety of things - including business and finance, human resources, customer service, and preparing and disseminating laboratory information and results.
She said her staff is well trained and professional, asking relevant questions when issues come up.
"I have a good group that knows when to call me in," she said. "I like people who can work on their own but who aren't afraid to ask when they don't understand something."
She said she leads by example.
"I care about the people I work with and the people I do things for and I love digging into problems and trying to solve them," she said.
That even goes for problems that seemingly aren't hers.
"Somebody's always wandering through the building wondering where to go," she said. "I always take the time to help them. I don't like it when someone says, 'It's not my job.' To be a good employee you need to go that extra step. Over the years you just learn where and how to help people."
The diagnostic lab is responsible for the blood work, biopsies and other tests requested by veterinarians from inside the college at the teaching hospital and out. The lab receives inquires and referrals from around the world.
"We don't always see the (animal) owners, but we know the data we give out are important," she said. "Around here, it's ultimately about the patient. There's an attitude of, 'If something's not right, let's fix it and get it right.' It's fascinating to see the care and consideration that goes on here."
Growing up on a farm near Monticello, Childress, one of eight children, spent much of her time around cows, sheep and plenty of chickens.
"I was allergic to most of them (animals), but I could still field dress a chicken (today) if I needed to," she said. "Working here has been my way of helping animals."
Childress' interests were pulled in opposite directions when she was younger and they still compete. As a young student she excelled at both art and math and had to decide one over the other when it came time to pick a career.
While she still dabbles with art, she realized an accounting career - and a certificate from Parkland College - was a more dependable way to pay the bills.
"Somebody without a degree can go far here (at the university), but I've never stopped learning," she said.
Childress' parents espoused creativity as a virtue and Childress said her mother still has Childress' childhood artwork around her house.
It's a family-raising approach that definitely has carried over with Childress. Married for 20 years, she said all of her family members are taught to follow their passions.
For her husband, Tim, it was his recent foray into beekeeping - something Childress supported wholeheartedly.
For her two sons, 17-year-old Daniel and 11-year-old Dylan, it's about learning about computers and playing video games.
And for Childress herself - well, it's about playing video games, too. It's a hobby that her sons have enthusiastically shared with their business-minded mom and now she's hooked.
"I love to go home and play with them," she said, noting the eldest son is considering a career in game design. "That's our bonding time and it's a way to escape."
She proudly declares she has reached level 50 on one of her favorite adventure games.
"It took a (virtual) arrow to the knee to stop me."
She also likes working crossword puzzles, gardening and crochet - a skill she learned in the seventh grade.
"I've got to either be doing something 'puzzly,' " she said, "or something with my hands."