“I can’t believe the years have gone this fast,” says Sue Schmid in disbelief. Schmid, a certified occupational therapy assistant and activity aide at Harbor Haven Health & Rehabilitation, is one of a large, but shrinking number of employees who have worked for Fond du Lac County for their entire career. With nearly 42 years of service, Schmid is currently one of the most tenured employees, something that caught her off guard when she discovered it. “I can’t even fathom it’s been 40-plus years. It’s gone so fast. Truly, it only seems like 10 years.”
Historically in the United States, it was very common for an employee to stay at the same company for decades and the company reciprocated with benefits like healthcare and pensions. “I wanted to get a car,” laughs Ardell Klaske, who currently serves as Fond du Lac County’s Register in Probate. Klaske grew up on a farm and was active in 4-H. She used that experience when she started in the UW-Extension Office as the 4-H secretary nearly 42 years ago. Klaske remembers starting her career at $1.60 an hour, which felt huge for her in her life.
For Schmid, who interacts with residents at Harbor Haven Health & Rehabilitation and the former Rolling Meadows Nursing Home, recalls being in unchartered territory when she started. “I was going to give it six months and see if I liked it and now it’s nearly 42 years. [The residents] are my second family and we have a blast together. I’ve never had a day that’s dragged.”
As younger employees begin entering the workforce in a changing world, many are changing jobs at a much higher rate than previous generations. County Executive Allen Buechel recognizes this growing issue, acknowledging that “workers, especially young people, feel different than they used to about their jobs and we need to respond in the workplace.” Buechel shares that recruitment has changed and employers need to be more flexible to retain employees. “It’s become more about job satisfaction than a pay check.”
Over the course of her career, Klaske gets the most satisfaction from working with the public. In the Probate office, she meets with people who have lost loved ones who need to go through the Courts to arrange financial matters. “Probate is not something people understand until they are faced with it when a parent or loved one dies. In those moments, what people truly need is someone to listen to them.”
Over the past 42 years, a lot has changed for Fond du Lac County and the workforce in general. From new buildings and infrastructure to the emergence of a larger and more diverse public, the County has had to continuously evolve in its efforts to meet the needs of its citizens. Technology has also played a role in how the County operates, going from making copies using onion skin paper to using iPods in Music & Memory programs for Harbor Haven residents. Klaske claims that technology has made her job a little more challenging but the human interaction is still valued and it’s seeing the person in the moment that makes it worthwhile for her. “But believe me, I wouldn’t want to go back to the onion skin paper!”
“I knew this was where I needed to be.
I know I am making a difference here.”
County Executive Buechel says the County has a reputation of being a good place to work and values the service of all its employees. “People with longevity are a good barometer of what the company culture is like. When you have long service employees, you know it’s a good place to work.”
Both Schmid and Klaske state there is no slowing down on the important work they are accomplishing. Their passion is visible and their drive for success is even stronger than when they both started nearly 42 years ago.
Keeping things fresh has been the key to Schmid’s long term success at the County. “Probably in my 40’s, when I was contemplating a career change, it hit me: I knew this was where I need to be. I know I am making a difference here.”
By Justin Kluesner