Longtime Heartland employee Kathie Lewis to retire

Kathie Lewis, left, in 1978 with Carolyn Rudebusch.
Kathie Lewis, left, in 1978 with former employee Carolyn Rudebusch.

A lot of memories are made over the course of 39 years, particularly if all those years are spent with one employer. One memory in particular sticks out for Heartland Executive Assistant Kathie Lewis.

“I will never forget the day we had CPR training at the office, and I was partnered with Dave Westbrock,” she said.

At 6’4″, Westbrock, who served as Heartland CEO at the time, towered over petite, 5’3″ Lewis.

“I remember we were learning the CPR techniques and I was supposed to roll him over, but he was just so much bigger than me! It was no small task,” she recalls, laughing. “It was just funny that I, the smallest person in the office, would get paired up with him. Everyone was laughing — we had a good time with it.”

Reflecting on her years at Heartland and laughing are two things Lewis has been doing a lot lately. After all, experiencing many of life’s milestones during her tenure–including marriage, children, and grandchildren–has led to many memorable moments. Looking forward, however, she is preparing to reach a new milestone without her co-workers or the backdrop of Heartland.

“My retirement date is June 6 – the same date I started my job 39 years ago,” she said. “It’s hard to believe how fast the years fly by. You never think the day will come when you can retire, and then here it is!”

Kathie, former employe Matthew O'Laughlin and the Heartland vehicle in 1978.
Lewis and former employee Matt O’Laughlin pose with the Heartland company vehicle in 1978.

Lewis joined Heartland as a secretary in 1977, six months after the power company’s first office opened on the second floor of the current East River Electric Power Cooperative building in Madison. It was her first job out of college and she was Heartland’s third full-time employee. Her responsibilities included typing correspondence, answering the phone, greeting guests, and helping with other administrative tasks. Although she still has many of the same job duties, modern technology has transformed the way she performs them.

“I remember using a general ledger posting machine, carbon paper and Dictaphone machines,” she said. “Early on, during the bond issues, there were stacks of paper everywhere, and there were times when we would be at the office until midnight preparing packets for board meetings. Everything is much easier now with computers.”

While Lewis prepares for retirement, her co-workers have also been reflecting on her tenure.

“I estimate Kathie’s 39 years at Heartland to be roughly 10,491 work days,” said Heartland CEO Russell Olson. “Can you imagine saying, ‘Good morning, Heartland, this is Kathie’ approximately 20 times a day for 10,491 days? That’s nearly a quarter of a million times. I am fairly certain that record will go unchallenged.”

Lewis will retire as Heartland’s longest-serving employee. Since 1977, she has worked for six different general managers and CEOs, under three different job titles and in three different office buildings.

Kathie at the front desk
Lewis at the Heartland front desk.

“I never imagined I would be working here this long, but once I started I just never thought about leaving,” Lewis said. “I won’t miss driving through a blizzard to go to work, of course, but it will be different not seeing the people every day. This has been a good place to work.”

Lewis’s plans for retirement include relaxing, camping and completing projects around the house. She and her husband Al, who also recently retired, will spend winter months in Lake Havasu, Arizona.

“We have a small family of co-workers here,” said Olson. “We all walk by Kathie at the front desk and talk to her almost every day. The office will feel much different without her. And of course, we will dearly miss the institutional knowledge that can only come with being here as long as she has.”

Lewis was born and raised in Sioux Falls, SD, and moved to Madison with her family her senior year of high school.  She earned her Associate of Arts degree from Dakota State College (now Dakota State University). She and Al have two children, Nick and Lindsey, and two grandchildren with a third expected to arrive in July.

Congratulations Kathie and best wishes for your retirement!