Advancement office includes remarkable staff longevity

posted on August 16, 2012

Red Cloud Indian School’s advancement office includes several employees who have been working at the institution for an exceptionally long time. In fact, if one adds up the total number of years that everyone in the office has been working at Red Cloud, it comes to a staggering 270 years!

We spoke to some of the advancement employees about their tenures at Red Cloud, and found out some interesting facts (and heard some humorous stories!). Below is some of what we learned. But first, a little about the individuals in question.

Henrietta “Etta” Cross Dog has been working at Red Cloud for an astonishing 46 years. She began on June 26, 1966 – a date that she named right off the top of her head when asked. While working at Red Cloud, she met her husband Linn Cross Dog, who is in charge of the bus garage, and is also a 40+ year veteran here.

Etta graduated from Red Cloud in 1964, having attended school here since the first grade. She felt a strong affinity toward the school, and knew she wanted to come back here and work. Her initial work in the development office (as it was called until recently) involved opening mail, filing, typing envelopes, and working with gifts of stocks and bonds.

Darlene Weasel Bear started several years after Etta, but at 39 total years, has worked at Red Cloud for an impressively long time. She graduated from Red Cloud in 1970, having attended all four years of high school there.

Darlene says that she started working in the development office right out of high school, literally the Monday after she graduated. She recalls it was a Fr. Hennessey who strongly recruited her, because he felt she had skills that would be an asset to the development work. She worked there through the summer, attended National College of Business in Rapid City for a semester, and then Fr. Hennessey recruited her back to Red Cloud.

Darlene was one of several siblings from the Weasel Bear family to work in the Red Cloud development office. Another was her younger sister Mary, who came to work in 1981 (thus, 31 years and counting). Their middle sister Karen joined four years after that, and is still here. Both also attended Red Cloud High School.

Rounding out the interviewees for this story are Kathy Starr (25 years) and Susan Basurto (16 years). Other long-term employees of the advancement office include Bernadette “Bunny” White Plume (17 years), Jane Farrell (15 years), and Sr. Margaret Giroux (30 years) who is now – at age 91 – part-time.

When asked the biggest change that they have observed at Red Cloud over their time at the institution, every single person had the same response: computers. Before the early 1990s, everything in the office was done manually, and the most high-tech pieces of equipment in the officer were typewriters.

Etta Cross Dog recalled: “When I first started work here, all I had was a desk, a chair, and a typewriter. When computers first came, it was a big event around the whole building, and was more than a little scary. I know Fr. [Earl] Kurth and I were both scared. On the day they arrived, Fr. Kurth had a chainsaw with him, and when he came in, he raised his chainsaw over one of the computers as a joke and said, ‘Compute this!’”

Other staff members had mixed feelings about the technology upgrade. Darlene Weasel Bear felt that computers made things easier, recalling that her fingers used to get stuck between the keys of the old manual typewriters. Kathy Starr said that the new computers came with a steep learning curve, and recalled that there was no tech support in those days!

Karen Weasel Bear, who said her initial interview in 1985 consisted mainly of a typing test, said that computers helped clear out more space in the office. Before the advent of saving information to computer disks (and later hard drives), much of the available space in the building was devoted to storing file cabinets full of donor and other record, all kept on index cards.

Etta said that back when she first started (and even earlier, when she was a Red Cloud student herself), the high school students were charged with handling all mailings and appeals. Twice a year, different tasks would be divided up among the grade levels. Etta remembers that in the girls’ dormitory, different rooms had different states assigned by bed – one bed might hold mail bound for California, another for Illinois, etc. Students would be hard at work sorting mail, stuffing sacks, and writing out addresses.

She also said that they would get names of people to send appeals to through existing donors, who would sometimes send lists of names of friends and relatives to the school to help them grow their donor base. All of this is indeed quite a change from nowadays!

The interviewees were also asked if they had a favorite memory of their time working here. Several of the staff mentioned particular former employees who made it a fun, productive, and rewarding workplace. Fr. Bill McKinney, Fr. Peter Klink, Fr. Earl Kurth, and Michael Welch all received multiple mentions.

Darlene said that a special memory for her was Fr. Kurth campaigning for new buildings during her early years. Buildings that he helped raise funds for included the high school building, the fieldhouse, the dining room, and the then-new school building at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Kurth, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 93, worked in the development office for many years, in addition to the other posts he held at the school including Superior of the Mission. Today, the advancement building is named in his honor. Mary Weasel Bear remembers how, in addition to his other (considerable) work, Fr. Kurth would clean the whole office, including mopping the tile floors. “He was always so selfless,” she said.

Susie Basurto said that her favorite memories were staff birthday parties, seeing all of the beautiful powwow regalia at the annual calendar shoot, and enrolling her granddaughter in Red Cloud’s Kindergarten. She also expressed gratitude for her co-workers, saying that they are like a “family”. She recalled how they were there for her when her husband and son died, offering spiritual support and heartfelt advice.

When asked if they could recall any funny stories about working in Red Cloud development, many of the stories involved annual holidays. Mary remembered Fr. Peter Klink’s wealth of hilarious Halloween costumes. Karen told of one year when he dressed up as a faceless nun who went around jokingly threatening office staff with a ruler to the knuckles. Karen said that she dressed up as a farmer with a mask that same year, and was proud that nobody recognized her.

Susie’s favorite story took place around Christmas: “I remember when Mary bought a talking Christmas wreath for the office. It would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ whenever anybody walked by. I remember it scared Fr. Klink when he first set it off.” She also recalled how former employee Mike Welch used to do a special “happy dance” whenever the school received a large donation in the mail.

The interviewees were next asked what had kept them here so long; what was so special about Red Cloud that they continued to happily work here year in and year out? Kathy agreed with others who talked about the sense of camaraderie among the staff. “I really enjoy being here with my co-workers,” she said, “It feels like a more private place, away from the drama of the outside world. There’s less political stuff here.”

Darlene said, “It is a challenging job, and hard work, but it is also enjoyable and rewarding.” Her sister Mary added, “The most rewarding part is the satisfaction of seeing Red Cloud stay open so that the students can get a good education.”

Susie echoed the centrality of the students to the school’s mission; “It’s definitely the children – it is so good to see them every day they are on campus. They always seem happy and excited, and they always say ‘hi’.” She added, “It feels like I’m supporting my own family.”

Karen talked about how, during the early years, she and her sisters often used to have to hitchhike the five miles to work and back home, because they didn’t have a reliable car. She said that once, they stayed until 5pm and then had to walk home in a hard snowstorm. At some point, Darlene lost her shoes in the snow and mud and had to continue the rest of the way home in bare feet.

The fact that Karen told that story when asked about humorous stories, and that she and Darlene had a good laugh when recounting the incident, speaks volumes about both their good humor, and their exceptional dedication to their work. As Karen simply put it, “I still look forward to coming to work here every day.”

The final question for the veterans was, “Do you think you will still be working here in another ten years?” Etta was the first to answer. “I don’t know about ten,” she chuckled, “Maybe five.” Darlene responded, “If I live that long!” and then laughed uproariously. “Maybe another 39 years!” she said and chortled again.

When Karen was asked, she sat thoughtfully for a minute, and then replied, “I’ll work until I can’t use my hands and feet, and my brain’s no good anymore. I’ll work here as long as I am able.”