Positive identity

Nani Fudge’s sunny soul has been a mainstay at the MU ID Office for two decades. During that time, her light has shined on thousands of students, staff and faculty.


March 3, 2022
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, wilkinsm@missouri.edu

Summer Welcome. The signature orientation event for incoming freshmen is the pinnacle of expectation, excitement and energy. Yet even though its title is synonymous with warm greetings, the experience can be tearful for parents and students as their lives diverge — often for the first time.

Enter Nani Fudge, supervisor of the University of Missouri ID Office and among the first smiling faces new Tigers see as they embark on their collegiate journey. Perhaps no other individual on campus has met more students, staff and faculty than Fudge, an effervescent one-woman welcoming committee dedicated to making newcomers feel at home. Did we mention she’s worked at Mizzou for 37 years?

“It’s natural for me to greet people and help them understand how important they are to us, whether they’re an international visiting scholar, a new student or a new employee,” Fudge said. “I’m also a mom, so I can empathize with the mother who’s crying because her ‘daughter’s middle name isn’t going to be on the card’ — although she’s really crying about her baby leaving.”

Those micro-moments are what make each Tiger’s trip to the ID office so much more than saying “cheese” and pocketing a useful rectangle of plastic. And for those fortunate enough to work alongside Fudge, the moments can be life-altering.

“She cares more about her job than most people I’ve seen,” said Conor Byrne, a sophomore journalism major who works in the ID office. “Nani is incredibly kind, patient and understanding — even when others are not. She might be the most affable person I’ve ever met.”

A family portrait with lots of people in it

Nani Fudge and family.

A beautiful soul

Fudge’s nature as an enthusiastic ambassador is in her DNA. Her father was a band leader in the U.S. Army, a job that zigzagged the family around the globe — Panama, New York, Kentucky, South Korea, Texas and finally, Missouri. She recalls her dad’s morale-boosting performances at various military events, which often included the peppy polka, “Happy Heine” — her favorite song.

“No matter where I was, I’d walk in and my song would start playing and I thought, ‘My gosh, the universe really loves me!’” Fudge said. “Years later, after I had kids of my own, my dad admitted to having the band members signal him when I arrived.”

Her late Hawaiian-Puerto Rican father also bestowed her unusual name, Kathleen Nalani “Nani” Ignacio. “Nalani” is Hawaiian for “heavens,” and the shortened “Nani” means “beauty” — an appellation that perfectly fit her sunny disposition. Fudge recalls making fast friends with the other “Army brats,” staging toothpick races in the gutters during Panama’s wet season, and skipping along on United Service Organizations tours of bubble gum and brass factories in South Korea.

“It was an international military base, so I met people from all over the world,” said Fudge, foreshadowing her role in the ID office. “Practically any place you can imagine was represented there.”

The family settled down for good when Dad took a job as bandmaster at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri. Fudge fell in love with mid-Missouri, then fell in love with her now husband of 39 years, Tod Fudge, an MU facilities manager with whom she shares four daughters and 11 grandchildren.

Fate brought the couple together one evening in 1982 after Fudge was reluctantly nominated designated driver to shuttle her friends to the bowling alley.

“I ended up going — totally against my will — and met the love of my life. And that’s pretty much how things happen for me,” Fudge said. “I expect good things to happen, and then they just happen.”

  • an old mizzou ID
    IDs through the decades.
Of every stripe

Fudge came to Mizzou in 1987, where she worked in the College of Engineering and moved to the Division of IT in 2000. When she took a position in the ID Office, she felt she’d found her home.

When new Tigers arrive on campus — after they’ve strolled Francis Quadrangle and perhaps grabbed a slice at Shakespeare’s — they invariably make their way to the ID Office on the ground floor of the MU Student Center. Mizzou’s magnetized multipurpose passport unlocks doors, checks out library materials, clocks in students for campus jobs, and can purchase books and gear at The Mizzou Store.

If you include her time as a student, Fudge has witnessed MU ID technology evolve from a laminated piece of cardboard with hand-cut photographs to a scannable plastic tile with a chip and a digitized image. She has also seen practically every hairstyle and fashion trend of the past 20 years walk through her door.

Hats, however, have never been allowed in ID photos — which makes for some amusing coiffures.

“We always joke with students about their hat hair,” Fudge said. “I tell them, ‘It's a badge of honor! You look like you've been on campus forever!’ And usually they laugh with you.”

Even when she’s kidding, Fudge makes an effort to get to know her patrons.

“I'm always interested in people’s stories,” Fudge said. “If they’re a researcher, I want to know what they’re researching. And then what might have been a socially awkward person not making eye contact just absolutely comes to life with passion and excitement. It’s amazing to see.”

For the student employees in the ID Office, Fudge’s maternal presence provides immeasurable support. A self-titled “work mom,” she regularly brings dishes of homemade multicultural cuisine to work. Upon graduation, each student receives a cookbook of their favorite recipes — complete with a heartfelt inscription about their shared experience.

“Nani truly kept me going whenever college was getting the best of me, always reminding me how great I was doing,” said Ashley Galvez, who worked in the ID office before graduating in 2020. “We still check in from time to time, and she’s still the best boss I've ever had.”

As Fudge approaches retirement, perhaps next year or in 2024 (she hasn’t decided), those who have worked closely with her understand the void she will leave in the Mizzou ID Office. But for the thousands upon thousands of students, staff and faculty who have interacted — however briefly — with the incomparable Nani Fudge, her light hasn’t gone unnoticed.

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