For 44 years Dee Quam has been a familiar face at the Austin Daily Herald. She will retire next Tuesday.
For 44 years Dee Quam has been a familiar face at the Austin Daily Herald. She will retire next Tuesday.

Archived Story

It has been Dee-lightful

Published 11:01am Wednesday, August 14, 2013

After 44 years at the Herald, customer service representative Dee Quam will retire Aug. 20

Her composure is inspiring, unmatched.

Like clockwork, she arrives each day in a cheery mood, ready to empathize with people who aren’t so happy. She’s the person who knows nearly everybody in Austin, and then some, and is always willing to solve a problem. Yet after 44 years as customer service representative, the Austin Daily Herald’s Dee Quam will retire. Almost.

“I really have no regrets,” Dee said about holding the same position for 43 of her 44 years of service. For one year she worked in accounting but quickly went back to circulation. It was clear what she was meant to do.

“I was more happy with the circulation aspect of it,” Dee said, who has collected payments, sold subscriptions, fielded phone calls and fixed errors for more than half of her life. She’ll turn 80 on Thursday.

Still, she isn’t quite done. Dee will continue to deliver papers as she has done for the past several years. Ensuring people have their newspapers on time and subscribers are happy appears to have been her fate, even though it wouldn’t have seemed that way at first.

Delaine Mary Werth was born in Hays, Kan., on Aug. 15, 1933. Shortly after, her family moved to Arvada, Colo. From there she graduated from high school and later married Dale Quam and moved to Austin in 1955. However, Dee didn’t begin her storied career at the Herald until Aug. 19, 1969.

For most, finding a gratifying, lifelong career is a stressful search. Dee didn’t search for her career, though. It found her.

“I was offered the job by a person by the name of Jerry Asperheim,” she said, and added Asperheim was a neighbor and good friend in Austin.

Dee began when the Herald was located in downtown Austin on “Herald Square.” She hadn’t worked one year before the pressroom burned down. Since then, she worked through some of Austin’s toughest times, including 11 floods, one of which nearly reached the Herald’s building. She raised three children and now has 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Countless businesses opened, closed, burned down, expanded and changed hands. Dee still won’t discuss the P-9 strike against Hormel, a time when the union and Hormel battled through their own advertisement wars in the Herald. With modesty, and respect for both sides of that issue, she leaves it alone.

Dee fielded countless phone calls that began with anger and frustration but ended with resolve and chitchat about family vacations, new children or lost loved ones. Dee is a master of turning controversy into casual talk. Her customers and co-workers, better seen as friends, know that very well.

“Any time there were any issues, she was there on top of it,” said Gloria Njos, a subscriber who has known Dee for at least 25 years. “Regardless of what, if you called and got an answering machine, she was on top of everything at the Herald. She is going to be missed.”

Melinda Huntley remembers delivering the Herald in the 1970s and reuniting with Dee when her children began delivering years later. She knows Dee well today, but was a little surprised by the retirement announcement.

“When she said that, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh; what are you going to do?’” Huntley said. “That’s the only thing I’ve ever seen her do, so it just surprised me.”

While shopping, Huntley encountered Dee days ago and experienced the same kindness and reliability she always remembered. Huntley hadn’t received her paper from the previous night, but Dee had one waiting in the car, just in case that sort of thing happened.

“The way she takes care of things: She never overreacted,” Huntley said. “She was always calm, collected.”

Some customers chose to only speak with Dee about their subscription needs throughout the years.

“Is Dee in? I’ll just come back later,” they’ve said.

During the past 19 and a half years, Herald accountant Sue Kapaun developed a solid friendship with Dee. The two frequently work closely to balance cash. Like customers and other co-workers, Kapaun has nothing but compliments.

“She’s always happy, and I just marvel at the way she handles the customers,” Kapaun said.

Dee’s job has traveled its own evolutionary course since 1969. Contemplating the differences more than 40 years later, she tossed her head back and sighed: “Oh, my…”

When Dee started, carriers collected money directly from subscribers. She kept track of all accounts on a paper spreadsheet. Everything was recorded on paper.

“I had an adding machine you would have to punch the numbers in and push the lever,” she said.

Shortly after, Dee upgraded to an electronic adding machine that spit out rolls of paper. Of course, reporters still had typewriters. Dee remembered the day the first computers arrived: She didn’t know what they were.

“I thought, ‘What in the world is this?’” she said.

Today, Dee is well accustomed to a computer as well. And after 44 years of change, her longest absence was only three months, when her husband was ill and eventually passed away. Dee praised the staff and current publisher Dave Churchill for sticking with her through the highs and lows of life. Churchill was impressed by Dee’s longevity and unquestionable reliability.

“I have been associated with the Herald in one way or another since the 1990s, and I don’t think anyone in that time has been as reliable or as steady as Dee,” Churchill said. “It’s amazing to realize that the nearly 20 years that I’ve worked at or with the Herald are only a portion of the time Dee has been here. Loyalty like she has shown is a rare thing these days.”

After 12 publishers, 24 circulation managers, hundreds of carriers and thousands of customers, Dee says its her turn to move to the next chapter. To her, though, the career hasn’t felt like decades of work.

“I just enjoyed what I did,” she said. “I never really got sick of it. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that many years.”

Again, Dee has arrived on time every day this week. Over the phone and in the office, longtime customers chat about her upcoming retirement. The interactions, Dee’s mannerisms and character haven’t altered. That may not look like much, but that has been her gift: always reasonable.

“I know it sounds a little trite, but it really has been inspiring to watch Dee interact with customers, day after day, for all these years,” Churchill said.

Come Aug. 21, business will continue at the Herald, but not quite as usual. The only desk in the office that proudly showcases a nameplate, yet hasn’t needed one for years, will await someone else. Clearing a few items for a new workspace will be simple. The nameplate, though, maybe it should stay.

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