In the corner of the Belbas Center’s top floor, students can find Joni Freidel in her office, ready to offer a smile and guidance to anyone who knocks on her door.
As USD’s director of scholarship administration for the last eight years, Freidel said she spends her day making education more affordable for students.
“I’m a warehouse,” Freidel said. “Scholarships come to me, and then I help disperse them to the colleges and schools. I work behind the scenes, behind the professors and admission staff and those who talk to students. I’m not necessarily on the front end like them, but I am the support person.”
Throughout the school week, Freidel’s focus is on helping students, but when her office doors lock on Friday evening, her benevolent focus remains. She returns to her home on the outskirts of Vermillion, sits down with her dogs and begins planning her Sunday dinner.
For the past 11 years, Freidel has hosted dinners for college students every Sunday night during the school year. A group of 10-30 students usually attend to enjoy a home-cooked meal prepared by Freidel and her youngest of five children, Hailey Freidel, a senior international studies major at USD.
“My husband and I thought Sunday nights were family time, so we put a priority on that when our kids were young.” Joni Freidel said. “When we moved here 12 years ago, a few of our oldest daughter’s friends started coming over (for Sunday dinner), and the same happened when all three of our sons were here. From there, it took off.”
All five of Joni Freidel’s kids and eight of their first cousins have graduated from or are currently attending USD.
Michaela Goldammer, a junior marketing major, said Hailey first invited her over three years ago, and the refreshing congregations bring her back every week.
“I first came to Sunday dinner when I was a freshman in 2015,” she said. “It’s a great recap for the end of the week and it’s a nice way for all of us to reconnect before the next one begins. I love Joni and her family so it’s nice to see them, and it’s great to be around people that I don’t see everyday.”
Talia Lego, a junior nursing major, said Joni Freidel is much more than just a host.
“Joni is like my mom while I’m (at USD), my mom away from my actual mom,” Lego said. “It’s always nice to see her. Plus, her cooking is amazing.”
Joni Freidel said Sunday dinners give her a reason to cook once a week, and the most rewarding part is getting to meet new people each week.
“I love getting to know the college kids and the people on campus,” she said. “I like the fact that I have individual relationships with students here at USD. I think it makes their experience more relevant to me.”
Joni Freidel said she’s grateful for the variety of people she’s been able to host through the years.
“I think about the great people I’ve gotten a chance to know that I never would have met if weren’t for (the dinners), people from all walks of life,” she said. “I’ve got people who’ve come to the house that are now doctors, professional football players, lawyers, teachers and artists.”
Guests like Goldammer and Lego always leave the Freidel household happier than when they arrived, and that brings her joy, she said.
“I look back over the years and I’ve been very fortunate to have gotten to know all these wonderful people.” Joni Freidel said.