No one has worked at Northern Illinois University longer than Pat Siebrasse.
In the past 50 years, the office manager for the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences has served under nine titles and learned to go from using a typewriter to navigating complicated computer software.
“I’ve always been a person who likes challenges,” said Siebrasse, 77, who recently retired from NIU. “I’ve always accepted new responsibilities.”
Leslie Holmes, who served from 1949 to 1967, was the university’s president when she started. He’s one of seven NIU presidents for which Siebrasse has worked.
When she was hired in July 1962, Siebrasse’s title was clerk stenographer; she used a typewriter to create tests for teachers in the Department of Home Economics. After graduating to an electric typewriter, Siebrasse eventually had to learn to use letter-sized punch cards when early computers were introduced in the 1970s.
When she started, she did clerical work for the entire department, which consisted of six to eight faculty members. When she retired, Siebrasse said the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences included 22 full-time faculty members and about six part-time faculty.
The Malta resident officially retired July 1, but she will assist the next office manager transition into the job. She has no official plans after retirement, but wants to spend more time with her four children, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, some of whom live out of state.
Even after 50 years, Siebrasse believes she could have put in a few more years. But uncertainty about the state’s billions in unfunded pension liabilities drove her to retire at the end of this academic year.
“I wasn’t really ready,” she said. “With everything going on, it’s just the right time. It’s sad because the university, I’m sure, is losing a lot of people.”
Siebrasse’s colleagues appreciate how professional she is, and they knew confidential information they shared with her always stayed confidential.
Josephine Umoren, who has worked with Siebrasse for 25 years, said she is known around the school as the “institutional memory.”
“She is the ultimate professional,” said Umoren, associate professor and coordinator of the school’s nutrition, dietetics and hospitality administration program. “She values and takes pride in what she does. She never gets irritated.”
Laura Smart, acting associate dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, is another of Siebrasse’s longtime co-workers. The two have worked together since Smart joined NIU as an assistant professor in 1979. Smart said when there was a question, everyone knew to ask Siebrasse because she’d either know the answer or point them to someone who could help.
“She felt so engaged in FCNS,” Smart said. “And you know, you need people like that in an organization that love it and respect it and want it to succeed.”
Aside from evolving technology, Siebrasse has watched as the Department of Home Economics evolved into the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences.
“It’s changed a lot in focus as society changed,” she said. “We don’t have a clothing construction class anymore. They used to do teas and dinner events [that] they no longer do.”
She also has noticed more men entering the hospitality service programs and social programs in the graduate level.
Siebrasse said her replacement will have to be open-minded and get along with people of different cultures and ethnicities because the school has a diverse faculty.
She said what’s kept her at NIU is having good people to work with, and her co-workers are sad to see her go.
“I don’t think this university will ever have another Pat,” Smart said.
“She’s just an incredible woman,” Umoren said. “Missing her is just not the right word.”