by Peter Jakey-Managing Editor
Sue Rhode, 56, is retiring from the only employer she’s ever had.
Rhode, Presque Isle County’s clerk for 16 years and a county employee for nearly 38, worked her final days last week at the county courthouse. Her last official day was New Year’s Eve. The Rhode family and the staff of the clerk’s office conducted a retirement party last Friday.
Ann Marie Main won the November election for county clerk and will manage the office for the next four years.
Sue Curtis graduated from Onaway High School in 1974 and was hired into the clerk’s office in February 1975. Thanks to her high school sweetheart and future husband, Dennis, she was able to get to work.
Even though the position was supposed to be for only a few months, Dennis bought her a car so she could make the trip from Ocqueoc to Rogers City.
“I don’t know what came first, the car or the job,” Rhode joked.
Her first day working with then clerk Leon Konieczny was February 3, 1975. It was a temporary job that lasted 37 years and nearly 11 months.
“I was only supposed to have a job until June,” said Rhode. “They didn’t say what June.”
She didn’t know if she would last very long after accidentally smashing county board chairman Fred McCreery’s hand in a metal door. He had to go to a clinic to have it treated.
“I thought I was going to be fired,” said Rhode. Her value to the office easily trumped the accident and her employment continued.
She clerked county board meetings for Konieczny, paid county invoices, handled the classification ledger and waited on the front counter.
She called the public servant role a rewarding one. “I always tried to treat everyone fairly and the same,” said Rhode, who was in the process of cleaning out her office during the last few weeks.
For some, the job of clearing out an office because of retirement is a true labor of love — that day that many people look forward to.
Not for Sue, who suffers from the physical impairments brought on by multiple sclerosis. She would have run for another term if it hadn’t been for the disease, she said. Rhode was diagnosed in 1996.
There have been many changes in the office, some with improved technology, such as the implementation of computers, but many procedures have changed as well, especially in the area of election law.
“The state went from paper ballots to punch cards, and then back to paper ballots,” said Rhode. “There has been lots of change.”
Computers obviously have made life easier for county employees. Rhode remembers typing checks, which are now generated by computers. She also said court records are stored in computers and easily accessed.
One part of the job that hasn’t changed are the problems on the second floor of the courthouse, which is part of the antiquated 19th century section. There have been many cosmetic improvements over the years, but the ceiling still leaks and the wind still blows in from the outside.
“It’s gotten worse,” said Rhode.
She worked with clerks Ruth Doyle, Faye Claus and Bob Urlaub, before winning election as clerk in 1996. She won three subsequent general elections, before sending a letter to the county board in April to announce her intention to not seek another term.
Chairman Carl Altman said at the time, “Sue served the county with the utmost of integrity and ability, and will sorely be missed.”
Rhode received a plaque for her years of service to the county at her final county board meeting.