By DAVID GREEN
Renée Schroeder is fond of the old saying about liking your job: If you love your job, you don’t work a day in your life.
“I haven’t worked in 26 and a half years,” she told Morenci city council members at a meeting last week.
She was a still a city employee, but for the first time she sat among the other audience members as her replacement, Michael Sessions, took over as city clerk/administrator.
She did return to the front of the room briefly as city officials honored her with a proclamation that highlighted her years of exemplary service to the city.
Now she’s in the process of cleaning out her desk, going through files, getting documents in order—and reminiscing on a long and devoted career in public service.
Renée remembers clearly how it all began. In 1987 she was working for attorney Greg Grover who served as the City’s attorney.
“Someone from city hall came into the office and told me MaryLee Hall was retiring and I should apply for the job,” she recalled. “I had only been working part-time for Greg as I always wanted to be home by the time our son Trent got home from school each day.”
By this time he had turned 11 years old—old enough to spend a little time at home alone—and the city clerk job sounded like a good opportunity to Renée.
“Part-time turned in to 50 to 60 hours a week,” she said.
She was hired to work with MaryLee for one year.
“MaryLee was a great mentor and the year spent under her guidance got me off to a great start,” Renée said.
Ken Walker served as mayor then and the city council chamber was a small room at the back of the old city hall. Council members Doyle Collar, Richard Pennington, Sally Kruger, Jay Funk, Gale Brink and Don Zuvers found their place at the table and everyone else—including the a newspaper reporter and the ever-present Butch Eichler, plus a trainee city clerk—squeezed where they could find room.
A few years into her job, Renée began to notice that Morenci was missing out in a lot of opportunities for grants.
“I attended a seminar on grant writing and began seeking out city administrators/managers in and outside our county and going to their network meetings,” Renée said. “I saw that our town was not applying for funding that we deserved as much as the next community and I became aware of some administrative oversight that our municipality was lacking.”
She approached city council about hiring a part-time deputy clerk to free up some of her time for seeking grants and attending to other administrative duties.
Council agreed, but it wasn’t until May 2000 that the word “administrator” was finally added to her title.
Since then, grant money has flowed into city coffers—grants as high as $1.9 million. Renée considers infrastructure improvement grants to be the highlight of her career.
“The project that was the most fun to work on, in the office and physically at the site, was the playscape at Wakefield Park in July 2000,” she remembers. “Trent and his wife Mandy had only been married two weeks and they came home and worked all weekend on the project, too. It is a wonderful feeling to see something like that materialize and the fact that you got to give back to the community you grew up in.”
Figuring out details, searching for answers, making key contacts, planning and organizing projects—those are the parts of her job that made it so much fun and so interesting.
Making a difference and helping city residents—those are two things she will really miss about leaving her post. Budget meetings after midnight in February, March and April? Not so much. Not much at all.
It’s frustrating to face a shortage of funds that will leave projects undone and services trimmed, she said.
“Negative people and people that gossip about the city and don't try to seek the facts,” she said, that’s also something she won’t miss, along with the internal political dynamics that make an appearance from time to time.
Renée lists three reasons to retire.
“Serena, Sutton and Bronson. The grand kids live two and a half hours away and although we get to see them at least one weekend a month, I was missing a lot of their special events. Otherwise, I probably would have stayed at city hall until they carried me away.”
In addition to the grandchildren, Renée thinks she will be able to convert a heavy work schedule into a retirement day without a lot of trouble.
“I have lots of hobbies,” she said. “I'm an avid reader and I plan to start re-reading my favorite classics and then catch up on some Stephen King novels I've missed.
She said there are several travel plans on her bucket list, including a trip to Alaska and British Columbia that she and her husband, Doug, are planning.
There’s scrapbooking with her grandkids’ “art work,” she enjoys trying new recipes, and there are still rock concerts to attend. She fit in Bob Seger, Kid Rock and Jimmy Buffet during the past working year.
“I like to meet my friends for lunch,” she added, “but my absolute favorite hobby is flower gardening.”
So, having never worked a day in the past 26 years, Renée can soon get down to the business of retirement.