Patti Iverson didn’t teach math, but the numbers she compiled in 33 years as administrative assistant to Eau Claire schools superintendents are impressive.
By Iverson’s calculations, she’s attended more than 800 school board meetings, and served more than 40 school board members, five superintendents and three interim superintendents since she assumed the role in 1987. Iverson is one of two women to hold the position in the last 72 years.
Asked why she stayed in the position — a job that Iverson says has proven extremely stressful and challenging at times, but mostly rewarding — for so long, Iverson chuckled and shrugged her shoulders.
“It might sound crazy, but when I went to CVTC and got my degree,” Iverson said simply, pausing for a moment, “it was like my dream job, being in this position.”
But it’s the end of an era — Iverson, 57, this week announced her retirement from the district effective July 5.
Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said the district will be losing a great deal of institutional knowledge and history when Iverson leaves her post.
“Patti, in being the superintendents’ secretary over 32 years, has established her office as ‘mission control’ for the administrative group,” Hardebeck said. “And, on a personal note, we will all miss her smiling face and upbeat approach. She is a treasure.”
School board member Joe Luginbill said he’s known Iverson since he joined the school board as a student representative eight years ago. In that time, Luginbill said he has learned much from Iverson and has found she treats everyone with respect and kindness.
“Patti is one of the hardest working, most tirelessly positive and compassionate people I will ever have the honor of working with. Her understanding of our district and its institutional history is unmatched, as is her commitment to the students and teachers we serve,” Luginbill said.
“I am so happy for her as she retires and enters this new chapter of her life. We will be replacing her position, but we won’t be able to replace Patti.”
‘One of the best hires’
Iverson got her start in the district in 1986 as an administrative assistant to the director of pupil services.
After graduating from Chippewa Valley Technical College with a degree in stenography — that degree is no longer offered, Iverson noted with a laugh — she first worked for an Eau Claire bridge contractor. But being raised in an “education family” in Merrillan, Iverson always wanted to work with a school district.
“My brother’s a superintendent, my sister’s a teacher, my dad is a teacher,” Iverson said. “My family is very much educators.”
When Leatrice Mathison, the previous administrative assistant to the superintendent, decided to leave her position after 19 years for a job in the district’s personnel office, Iverson jumped at the chance.
Though she was young and still relatively new to the district, Iverson was hired to fill her spot. Former Eau Claire schools Superintendent Marvin Lansing said he remembers being impressed by her ability to write in shorthand, and they expanded her role to include secretary of the school board.
To say the least, they weren’t disappointed with the hire, Lansing said.
“She’s one of the best hires the district ever made — she’s been outstanding,” Lansing said. “I have the highest regard for Patti and the work she’s done as my secretary and the work she’s done in the superintendent’s office all these years. She’s a gem; she really is.”
After Lansing’s retirement in 1990, Iverson went on to serve four more superintendents — Lee Hansen, Bill Klaus, Ron Heilmann and Hardebeck, respectively — plus three interim superintendents.
Iverson said she’s kept in contact with all the superintendents she’s served over the years, having developed close relationships with all of them.
“When you work with somebody that closely under a lot of high-stress situations, you really have to trust in each other,” Iverson said. “Every time I had to say goodbye to one of them, it was really hard because they had become a part of my life and they were always very supportive.”
Overall, working with the community is one of the best aspects of her job, noting her biggest career highlights were getting several referendums passed and establishing the district’s strategic plan.
A role with challenges
But the job definitely has its challenges, Iverson said.
“No two days are ever the same,” she said. “There’s always lots of balls to juggle, and so it was exciting and fun and certainly challenging at times. But one of the things I tried to do every day is come in with the attitude that today’s going to be a good day and treat people with kindness — even when I’m getting blasted on the phone.”
In all her years fielding calls for the superintendent, Iverson said she’s had some “really tough conversations” with people ranging from angry parents to local and sometimes national journalists.
For example, the district garnered national media attention in 1992 when a group of school officials changed the results of Memorial High School’s homecoming queen election by burning the ballots so that a pregnant girl would not be crowned.
“You can never quite be prepared whenever you get calls from the national media,” Iverson said. “But I felt I always had the district’s best interest at heart and felt I was a good ambassador.”
Through it all, Iverson said she aims to listen carefully and stay calm. If she feels herself slipping, all she has to do is glance over at the smiley face sticker she has posted near her phone.
“It’s really cool to see how their attitude would change just by being kind,” Iverson said.
The role has changed over the years — in part due to technology, Iverson said, adding she recently found the old dictaphone she used when taking notes at board meetings. Iverson said she’s also gotten more involved with public information over the years, including writing press releases and running the communication when the district closes due to weather.
Those days, Iverson said, begin with a call from Hardebeck around 4:45 or 5 a.m. to let her know the school is closing.
“And that initiates 45 minutes of sweating and shaking,” Iverson admitted, chuckling. “I’ve done it a thousand times, but you have so little time to get out information.”
Iverson records a message announcing the closing that is sent to families’ phones across the district — some 24,000 phones — in addition to posting on the website and social media.
Approaching her retirement, Iverson is looking forward to dedicating more time to being a grandma, mom and daughter to her family again.
“I’m really looking forward to giving more time to my family because they’ve always been so great and supportive,” Iverson said. “I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my life.”
Still, it’s bittersweet to leave, Iverson said.
“When you’re living through challenges, it’s hard. Really hard,” Iverson said. “But all those things brought me to where I am today, and that’s what I feel best about. Even though there were some really hard times during my 33 years in this job, it made me a better person.”