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LP-A’s Nelson is MN Office Professional of the Year

Lake Park-Audubon High School secretary Sheila Nelson was recently chosen as Minnesota’s Office Professional of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. A lifelong resident of the community, she has been the principal’s secretary at the high school since 1998. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) has chosen to award its Minnesota Office Professional of the Year title to someone from Becker County.       

In 2013, the honor went to Detroit Lakes High School secretary Joleen Skolte; this year, it will be awarded to Lake Park-Audubon High School secretary Sheila Nelson.

“I was really very surprised,” Nelson said of her reaction upon learning that she’d been chosen to receive the honor.

“Mr. Ricke (LPAHS principal) nominated me for the award from our (western) division, and I won that,” Nelson said. “Then they put all the division winners together and picked one for the whole state. I won that, too. It was amazing. I know there are a lot of very deserving secretaries out there, so it was quite an honor.”

Sheila, along with her husband Sherwood Nelson and her boss, Kevin Ricke, will be traveling to Minneapolis next week to receive her award, during the annual MASSP convention.

“I will be a guest at their banquet, which is where I’ll receive the award,” she said.

“She’s very well-deserving,” said Ricke. “Sheila has great public relations skills, and a very high emotional IQ. She listens very well, anticipates well and responds well to the needs of our students, parents and staff.”

A lifelong resident of the community, Sheila graduated from Lake Park High School before taking a one-year secretarial course at Moorhead Technical College.

She worked for an accounting firm, and then got into banking for a while before deciding to apply for the high school secretary position at LP-A in 1998.

“My former business teacher was on the interview committee (during the hiring process),” Sheila said. “I told him there are two things in this world that are most important to people — their money and their children. I’ve worked with people’s money, so now it’s time to work with the children.

“It was kind of hard coming to work here at first,” she added, noting that many of her former instructors were still working in the district at that time, and it was hard to make the transition from thinking of them as adult authority figures to viewing them as work colleagues.

“I had a really hard time calling some of them by their first names, and there were some that I never could… it just didn’t feel right.”

But as a mother of three, who now has five grandchildren as well, working with children was something that just came naturally to her — and it’s that aspect of the job that Sheila finds most rewarding.

“I love the kids,” she said. “It’s kind of like being a mom to 300-plus children. I think they keep me young.”

“She’s the glue that keeps things together in every aspect of our high school,” Ricke said. “To do what she does goes way above and beyond multi-tasking.”

“I have a lot of duties,” agrees Sheila. “Being in a small school, I take on lots of things that in a larger school would have several different employees to cover them.”

Those things include everything from acting as the school nurse, to taking attendance data and entering it into the computer, and taking calls from anxious parents when the weather worsens during the school day, just to name a few.

“There’s never a dull moment,” she said. “There is no normal day here. You just never know what’s going to happen. I think that’s one of the things I like most about my job.”

One of the things that Nelson could not have predicted was being diagnosed with suspected thyroid cancer.

“Two years ago I had my thyroid removed, and lost my voice,” she said.

Though her doctors ultimately determined that the organ was not cancerous, the surgery resulted in Sheila’s vocal cords becoming paralyzed.

“I didn’t have a voice for a year and a half,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you use your voice until you don’t have it. There are so many things you can’t do that you just don’t think about. It gets to the point where you just don’t want to be out in large crowds, because they can’t hear you. It was very frustrating.”

Plus, she added, “It’s pretty hard to be a secretary when you can’t talk. But everybody was so understanding, so nice. The administration was really great about working with me. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to work. And it all turned out fine.

“I am in good health now,” she added, “and the parents and kids here were all so excited for me when I got my voice back. It really was a miracle. I lost my singing voice, but oh well.”

When Sheila first started working for the LP-A district, her boss at that time liked her to keep a detailed planner that listed her tasks for the day. It didn’t take too long before she realized that wasn’t going to work for her.

“It was too frustrating,” she said. “I’d write down what I expected to get done that day, and I didn’t, so I’d transfer it to the next day, and the next, and finally I’d get to the point where I’d just cry. I don’t ever get caught up with this job, but I think that’s part of the fun. I just take things as they come.”

“I think they call it grace under pressure,” Ricke said. “If Sheila has pressure, she doesn’t show it. She just has this calm demeanor.”

When she’s not working, Sheila loves to spend her time gardening, reading, spoiling her grandchildren and enjoying the family’s lake lot on Lake 15.

“We’re also very involved with the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher’s Reunion at Rollag,” she added. “My husband’s grandfather was the first president of WMSTR, and one of the founders.”

She was also honored to be chosen last July for having the “Yard of the Month” by the local gardening club.

“I also love to spend time with my family — family always comes first,” she said. “My parents, kids and grandkids all live right around here. I’m very fortunate.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454