County assistant honored

Published 10:30 am Monday, August 25, 2008

Kelly Olson was not just another administrative assistant in Mower County government.

She was the administrative assistant.

Part-secretary, part-Gal Friday and other politically-incorrect terms, Olson was a force and a face.

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She worked in the county coordinator’s office, where Craig Oscarson is the man at the center of everything going on in Mower County.

Wanna see Oscarson? You had to get through Olson first.

Al Cordes, the county’s human resource director, also had an office in that office as strange as it sounds.

Wanna get to Cordes? You had to go through Olson first.

Even the Mower County Commissioners were at Olson’s mercy. “Where’s Craig?” Where’s Al?” “Where’s the commissioners’ meeting?” and a dozen other questions were her’s to answer.

She did her job with grace and aplomb, efficiency and a smile and now she’s gone.

How did she do it so well for so long?

“I think it’s things you learn as a mom,” she said Friday afternoon at one of two farewell parties held in her honor. “Every mom juggles 20 different things.”

So, motherhood is the key to today’s successful secretary and administrative assistant, huh?

Olson quit her administrative support job in Mower County government to take a similar position in much larger Dakota County government at the courthouse in Hastings.

She also leaves the position of executive director of the Mower County Historical Society.

County co-workers and officials honored her Friday with a party. The Historical Society did the same at the historical center on the fairgrounds.

“I’ve really liked the people,” she said of her work. “In my job with the county, I got to work with the public, county board, county employees. I got to work with other leaders within the community. I liked the wide variety of people I worked with. I got to know a lot of people and make lots of friends.”

“I like having the ability to be a little social and deal with different people,” she said, of course, with her familiar smile.

Not that the work was always easy. After all, the public can be demanding, officials can be demanding, co-workers, too. Everybody can be demanding and that includes reporters covering county government.

Just ask Olson.

She is a native of New York State, who entered the U.S. Army after graduating high school.

Her mother is alive and still lives in Upper New York State. She also has a brother and sister, who both live in New York State.

She served four years in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, Texas, where she worked as a legal specialist.

While in the army, she met her husband, Tim Olson, a native of Austin.

The couple was married at Fort Hood, Texas, and upon earning their honorable discharges moved to Austin.

Olson worked for Lawhead Law Offices before obtaining a job with Mower County as an administrative assistant at the end of 1997.

In another day and age, Olson may have been called a “secretary,” but that was long ago.

Times change

Today, Dolly Parton and the movie “Nine To Five,” would appear to be a well-worn cartoon about the work place.

Times, and the work place, have changed and so has the job.

As the reliance on technology continues to expand in offices, the role of the office professional has greatly evolved, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

Office automation and organizational restructuring have led secretaries and administrative assistants to assume responsibilities once reserved for managerial and professional staff. In spite of these changes, however, the core responsibilities for secretaries and administrative assistants have remained much the same: Performing and coordinating an office’s administrative activities and storing, retrieving, and integrating information for dissemination to staff and clients.

According to the Labor Department, secretaries and administrative assistants perform a variety of administrative and clerical duties necessary to run an organization efficiently. They serve as information and communication managers for an office; plan and schedule meetings and appointments; organize and maintain paper and electronic files; manage projects; conduct research; and disseminate information by using the telephone, mail services, Web sites, and e-mail. They also may handle travel and guest arrangements.

Secretaries and administrative assistants use a variety of office equipment, such as fax machines, photocopiers, scanners, and videoconferencing and telephone systems. In addition, secretaries and administrative assistants often use computers to do tasks previously handled by managers and professionals, such as: Create spreadsheets; compose correspondence; manage databases; and create presentations, reports, and documents using desktop publishing software and digital graphics. They also may negotiate with vendors, maintain and examine leased equipment, purchase supplies, manage areas such as stockrooms or corporate libraries, and retrieve data from various sources. At the same time, managers and professionals have assumed many tasks traditionally assigned to secretaries and administrative assistants, such as keyboarding and answering the telephone. Because secretaries and administrative assistants do less dictation and word processing, they now have time to support more members of the executive staff, according to the Department of Labor.

Olson is an example of the new face of secretaries and administrative assistants in the work place.

Her husband, Tim, is a full-time Austin firefighter.

The couple has 2 children: Claire, 9, and Roger, 4.

She will commute to her new job at Hastings.

Tim will take on more at-home parenting duties.

Flexibility will be the key to a successful transition for Olson.

At the end of her tenure with Mower County government, Olson shared administrative assistant duties with Denise Bartels: Olson worked mornings, Bartels the afternoons. Now, Bartels will take over the position full-time.

For the last 2 years, Olson split her time with Mower County and the Historical Society.

Consider her response to a question about her duties with the Historical Society and understand why she was so popular and respected.

“I wouldn’t call myself a ‘history buff,’ but I’ve always enjoyed older things,” she said. “My mom was very interested in antiques. One of the things my family liked to do on weekends was visit cemeteries; even old, abandoned cemeteries.”

“My person history has been that I was always surrounded by old things. My grandfather has had a keen interest in genealogy. History has been everywhere,” she said.

“I was drawn to work here, because I knew they needed a director and I wanted a management position and knew about the Historical Society, through my county job,” she said. “At that point in my life, it was a good fit for me.”

Job satisfaction, ambition for more responsibility, respect ….. OIson displayed it all.

Now, she will be the senior administrative coordinator to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners.

Her old county job is filled. According to Barb Lewis, president of the Historical Society board of directors, the process has begun to fill Olson’s executive director position.

Which job did she like best? Answer: Make up your own mind.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to serve the members of the Historical Society and the community, because this is not just for Historical Society members, but for all of Mower County and anybody interested in history and our county,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished some things since I’ve been here and I will look forward to seeing some other things carried out,” she said.