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Assistant controller’s family-oriented approach to leadership at MC earns DBT’s MVP Award for February

MC President Blake Thompson surprises Karen Key by presenting her with the DBT's MVP award for February.
MC President Blake Thompson surprises Karen Key by presenting her with the DBT's MVP award for February.

For Karen Key, Mississippi College is all about family.

It's what interested her in the Christian University when she applied to become a payroll accountant in 1999. It's what helped her accept the challenge of becoming the University's bursar and, a decade later, its assistant controller. It's the feeling she has fostered among the team of professionals in MC’s Office of Business Affairs.

And it's an approach that has netted her Dr. Blake Thompson's coveted Most Valuable Person Award for February.

“We see each other at our best times and at our worst times,” Key said of her compatriots in the Business Affairs, Financial Aid, and Registrar’s Office. “Of course, you share your work, but you can share what’s going on with your family, too. We have a good time getting to know one another and interacting on a personal level.

“It makes you feel good about working here and knowing that people care. And we try to relay that to students and parents, to make them feel like they are a part of this family with us. MC is truly a remarkable place.”

Thompson surprised Key with his DBT’s MVP award during a staff meeting Feb. 3. Laura Jackson, chief operating officer and chief financial officer, Ebby Dedeaux, controller, and other Business Affairs employees celebrated the occasion with cupcakes.

“I am honored,” Key said. “I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”

Her reaction was no surprise to Dedeaux, who is well aware of Key’s selfless nature.

“Karen has served the institution for more than 20 years,” Dedeaux said, “and we are fortunate to have her as the leader of our Business Office.”

Originally from Columbia, Mississippi, Key attended college at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she met her future husband, Allen. The couple married in 1990 and moved to Byram, where she worked for a church.

“I realized I didn’t want to work there forever, so a friend told me about a payroll accountant position at MC,” she said. “I hadn’t worked in education before, but I thought I might like it.

“Obviously, I do – I’ve been here for 24 years.”

After two years of exemplary work, Key was approached by Lloyd Roberts, who was then serving as interim president of MC, about becoming the University’s bursar. It was an intriguing offer, but it was filled with uncertainty.

“I told him I didn’t know if I could do it because I didn’t know anything about the position or office,” Key said. “He gave me the best advice I’ve ever received. He said, ‘You’ll never grow until you step outside your comfort zone.’

“I am where I am today because he believed in me.”

Roberts said Key excelled in the position, proving his instincts about her had been correct.

“The years 2000-2002 were difficult for Mississippi College,” he said. “The University faced extreme financial pressures and needed Business Affairs personnel performing at a very high level. I believed in Karen Key. I knew that she had the wherewithal to lead the Bursar’s Office.

“She answered the call and changed an antiquated bursar’s office into a modern and effective financial unit. She played a major role in reestablishing the University’s financial solvency. I will always be grateful for her contribution to the University, and I thank God for sending us Karen Key at this most difficult time.”

A decade after meeting Roberts’ challenge, Key transitioned into the assistant controller’s position. At about the same time, she and Allen, a sales manager for Steel Service in Flowood, moved to Clinton.

“Clinton is our home,” she said. “It’s been great living close to work.”

The Keys, members of First Baptist Church in Clinton, have two adult children: their daughter, Emily, lives in Panama City, Florida, with her husband, Mark, and their son James, who turned 1 in January; their son, Chandler, and his wife, Destiny – both graduates of Mississippi College – live in Gulfport with their sons, Thomas, 2, and Caleb, who turned 1 in December. A Christian Studies major, Chandler is a student pastor at Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport.

As the monthly DBT’s MVP recipient, Key received a T-shirt, a parking spot of her choosing for a month, a $50 gift card, and the most valuable prize, a bobblehead of a beaming Thompson with his golf cart to display on her desk for the duration of her award-winning tenure.

It’s a prize that Key will enjoy sharing with her workplace family.

“I’m not one person, but part of a team that works hard to help students and their parents feel comfortable and ensure all of their questions are being answered,” she said. “It’s nice to be around Christian, like-minded people. That means a lot, especially nowadays – you may not get that everywhere you go.

“I’ve seen many changes since I’ve been at Mississippi College, but one thing has remained the same throughout all those years: we’re still one big family.”