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Ending a 43-Year Adventure
Kathleen Steiner retiring after 43 years on campus.
Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 7-12-2014
(NOTE: The Mankato Free Press photo at right of Kathleen Steiner was taken by Pat Christman.)
Mankato, Minn. -- Kathleen Steiner always had a favorite time of year at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
At the start of orientation time, new students would come into the office in the Communication Studies department with a sparkle in their eyes, “like they were heading off into their new adventure,” Steiner said.
The parents, on the other hand, often had a somewhat terrified look, wondering if they were ready for all of this change.
“This time of year, I kind of correlated it with opening night in the theater,” said Steiner, 62, of St. Peter.
Over her almost 43 years as an administrative assistant in the College of Arts and Humanities, she always saw it as her biggest responsibility and her ultimate joy to take care of those parents and students, and not just on that first day. She loved helping the students throughout their four years at the university, making sure their questions were answered and they had what they needed to succeed.
“If they don’t know where to go, I say, ‘You come here. We will get you connected to the right person,’” Steiner said. “I’m trying to assure them that they will be OK.”
Memories of students, faculty, department chairs, deans — everyone Steiner grew to know and care about throughout her career — inspired a lot of tears Friday, Steiner’s last day before retirement. It took some convincing from her husband, Dean Steiner, over the course of a few months before she would even consider leaving her job.
But, in the end, the timing was right both financially and personally, with family members to care for and their fourth grandbaby on the way this month.
When news of Steiner’s retirement spread in the spring, faculty wondered aloud how anything would get done without her.
“Yes, it definitely is the running joke. ‘What are we going to do now?’” said Professor Kristen Treinen, who has worked with Steiner for 12 years. “She was like the hub. She was our lifeblood. When we needed anything, we went to her.”
Steiner said she knows everything will be just fine upon her departure.
“It’s really great that they think I’m the backbone of the department, but really we’re a team,” said Steiner, who grew up in Kasota and graduated from St. Peter High School in 1970.
Steiner attended Mankato Vocational School to train to become an administrative assistant, and her first job was at the school working in the office after her classes. After a short stint working in a temporary position with Mankato Area Public Schools, she landed an administrative assistant job in the College of Arts and Humanities at Minnesota State Mankato, working for both the mass communications and philosophy departments.
Steiner remembers working on a manual Olympia typewriter in those days, and she also remembers being asked if she had good typing skills.
“I said, ‘Man alive, with four carbons I could type 80 words a minute and error-free,’” she said.
“Because the backlash was that you had to start over if you made a mistake.”
Steiner briefly was shared between various departments within the college before finally staying in what would become Communication Studies. And that’s where she said she’s felt at home ever since.
Steiner said she’s tried to represent the department as best she can over the years.
“We are the face of the departments. We are the ones who represent the departments for the university,” Steiner said. “And, the best part, I love everything about the arts and speech and newspapers and music.
It was a wonderful fit for me.”
Cleaning her desk and looking down at how bare it was this week took her aback.
“I thought, ‘Man, I don’t have a home here anymore,’” she said with tears in her eyes.
The faculty and staff who continuously dropped in to bring flowers or deliver hugs disagree. They would welcome her back any time, said Treinen, who described Steiner as being like a warm and caring mother.
For now, though, it’s time to go.
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