Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 18 December 2012 14:03
Even before she graduated from Hillsboro High School, Donna Dalke was working as an office secretary there.
Technically, she was a student aide. But her two years assisting the full-time secretary, Noreen Hein, set the course for a professional career that will end this month, nearly 45 years later.
Dalke is retiring after 34 years as a full-time secretary with Unified School District 410, including the last 22 at Hillsboro High.
After graduating in 1966, Dalke took secretarial courses at Tabor College for a year before accepting a job with the district in 1967.
“I always enjoyed secretary work,” Dalke said about her decision. “Back then it seemed like a female was either a teacher or a secretary or a nurse—and I wasn’t interested in the other two.”
Even today, Dalke suspects her mentor may have played a role in the hiring.
“Mrs. Hein, by then, was working in the central office,” Dalke said. “Maybe she pulled for me somewhat, I?don’t know for sure. But she was very influential in getting me interested in working in the school office.”
A place to start
Dalke started in the central office, which was located downtown where Panda Kitchen is today. H.B. Kliewer was superintendent at the time.
Dalke worked there for two years before resigning when she and husband Dan welcomed their first baby.
“Every time I had a child—and I have four—I would resign,” she said. “You didn’t really have maternity leave in those days. So I would resign, but then I’d come back.”
Even when she wasn’t employed full time, Dalke took on free-lance typing projects and did some subbing on the office as the need arose.
Through the years, Dalke has worked for seven superintendents: Kliewer, Keith Bray, Marvin Schadt, Robert Brown, Gordon Mohn, Doug Huxman and Steve Noble.
And she’s worked for seven principals: Nick Klaassen during her two years as an aide, then John Crum, Marilyn Jost during a stint at the middle school, Mohn, Glenn Suppes, Dale Honek and Max Heinrichs.
“I got along with all of them and I like them all,” she said.
The working environment evolved over these 45 years as technology advanced.
“Back then, when you copied something, it was with a 3M copier and it took a full minute to make a page,” she said.
Her work also included duplicating pages on the old-style Gestetner and mimeograph machines, typing payroll checks and bills by hand, and accounting for money that came through the office for school activities.
“I just did whatever I was told,” she said.
Computerization came along in the 1980s. Dalke was preparing to come back from a maternity break at the time.
“I took some night classes at Tabor before I was hired at the middle school, just knowing that computers were coming into play,” she said. “When there was an opening, at least I knew a little bit about them.
“It’s evolved a lot since then, with copiers that can do massive jobs,” she said. “You can program your computer to your copier and everything is networked. It’s just amazing now. That part is a lot better.”
Beyond the office tasks, interacting with staff members, students and parents has always been a big part of being a school secretary.
“I’m a people person, so I like being with people,” Dalke said. “It was good that I worked in a location where you see a lot of people. But you never know from day to day if it will be hectic or calm, heated or not.
“I don’t like to have conflicts,” she added, “so I’ve tried to make good out of every situation.”
Changing times have changed the relational dynamics to some degree, Dalke said.
“Years ago, working in the central office, I felt like I knew almost everybody in the district—no matter what age of student they had—because you were exposed to that list of people‚ and there were a lot of them,” she said.
“Now, I know most of the staff in one way or another, but I think our society moves people around a bit more and you don’t get to know all the families as well—even the ones in my building,” she said.
“I hate that part. Sometimes I hesitate to say someone’s name.?I might know their child, but I’m not sure who (the parents) are, and I regret that.”
Dalke said the approach of her 65th birthday next month was a key factor in her decision to retire now. Leaving in the middle of a school year made sense to her, too.
“I thought maybe it would be easier to leave during a (school) year because it would be hard to train someone over the summer break,” she said.
“When you start a (school) year, it’s more intense and busier,” she added. “Now, we’re in a little bit more of a routine. Hopefully, the new person will be totally acclimated by the end of the (school) year.”
Dalke knows what she’ll miss most following the transition.
“I will miss everyone,” she said. “The staff is great. I feel like they’ve become my family or best friends because I’m with them so much. Students also—they’re just really good students. I see some more than others, but I will miss them. I know I will.”
One staff member sure to stay in touch with her is HHS art instructor Dustin Dalke, who happens to be her son.
“That has been wonderful,” she said about his involvement on the faculty. “I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to have him come straight from college to be hired into the building where I worked—not just in our district, but where I can see him and interact with him.
“It’s been one of the things that’s kept me here (this long), along with an excellent office staff,” she added.
One benefit Dalke is looking forward to in retirement is more scheduling flexibility.
“My summer vacations were always during the hottest months of the year because I was off part of June and most of July,” she said. “I’m looking forward to some vacations whenever they can be arranged, and not just because it’s that month.
“I look forward to a little more free time to kind of drop whatever I’m doing and have a nice time with family or friends.”