By Robert Lucke
Ask Hill County Commissioners about their secretary and to a person they will tell you that Lois Ann Nichols-Mader is not just their girl Friday but every other day of the week, too. Anyway, work-week days.
But because of the workings of county government, Nichols-Mader's job is sort of like that of the secret service and U.S. president. Even though she works alongside the commissioners everyday, she was hired by Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem as her representative in the Commissioners' office.
After graduating from MSU-Northern in 1985 with a degree in government and history, Nichols-Mader went to work in the commissioners' office in 1987.
Has she ever seen the commissioners come and go: Art Rambo, Toni Hagener, Leroy Keller, Dan Morse, Nora Nelson, Kathy Bessette, Lloyd Wolery, Pat Conway, and Doug Kaercher. In one five-year period, she saw seven new commissioners.
Lois Ann Nichols-Mader was originally hired as a secretary and last year was promoted to a deputy.
What is her job? It is so much that it is hard to really define it.
"I watch for deadlines. I keep track of all agreements and all payments that come in, all the commissioners' appointments, all meetings, and I am the resource if something comes up that needs to be researched in the past," said Nichols-Mader.
One thing about her job is that Nichols-Mader knows lots that is happening everywhere in the Hill County Courthouse.
"One thing I really like is that the commissioners' office touches every office in the courthouse, so I have contact and know what everyone is doing," Nichols-Mader said. "I think I probably know 90 percent of the people who work in the courthouse. Since the jail has moved out, I don't know some of the new jailers, and some of the Council on Aging people I don't know, but most I do."
In some courthouses, commissioners have their own private offices. In Hill County, the three commissioners sit around a large desk and have constant contact with each other. Nichols-Mader hopes it will remain that way.
"In our office, they (the commissioners) are always together. If the public drops in, they have an appointment to talk to all three commissioners. All three hear the arguments and when decisions are made, they all know what each other is thinking," Nichols-Mader said.
Greatest worry about the job? Missing a deadline.
"When I issue a notice to the public for a bid or something, if I miss a date, that would negate the whole process. We would have to start all over," Nichols-Mader said, and just the thought of something like that happening put a frown on her usually smiling face.
Lois Ann Nichols-Mader is married to elementary education major Pat Mader, who has five children. With all that family, no matter what happens in the commissioners' office, life just begins for her when her work day is over.
And sometimes the office is difficult to leave behind.
"It is a high-stress office. There are not too many thank yous. When people come in angry, I find out exactly what has made them angry and if I can help them I do. If not, I make sure to get the commissioner to respond back to them. Many times it is a misinformation and they leave satisfied but not always," Nichols-Mader said.
Angry customers do not anger Nichols-Mader. Chaos does.
"Usually it is not the anger that does it for me. I can listen to three conversations. One commissioner will be on the phone, another will be talking to someone, and still another will be talking to someone else," Nichols-Mader related with a smile. "And I have to make sure that I have something down for each one of those things to happen. And about that time Diane (Mellem, the clerk and recorder) walks in and says I need to do something else, too. I am trying to do all those things. It is chaos and when I get home I am still running in circles."
Still, for Lois Ann Nichols-Mader, this is the perfect job.
"After 13 years, I still enjoy coming to work and working with the people I work for," Nichols-Mader said. "Serving the public is what I do, and I see a lot of the public in that office. The thing I like is that we have an open door and those who walk in, we all help in solving their problems and finding them answers."