Thoele retiring after 41 years at school business office

“It is a great place to work,” said Thoele.

After 41 years working in the Staples and Staples Motley school district’s business office, Bonnie Thoele has a unique first-hand view of what goes on behind the scenes.

“It is a great place to work,” said Thoele. She said for many years we had people who were in a similar age category, so we followed each other’s lives, celebrated when their children got married or when they had new grandchildren. “We became like a family.”

Thoele also said the school district looks out for their employees, which was a change from her prior work in the private sector. “If people were let go, it was because their position was cut,” and they were able to keep working until the end of the school year, she said. “People felt more secure here.”

The business office also kept Thoele on her toes to keep up with changing job duties and learning new state regulations. “I enjoyed the work, the changes and variety. It’s not the same thing day after day,” she said. “Questions come up every day that make it interesting.”

“It made it easy to go to work,” said Thoele.

So when Thoele announced she was retiring after 41 years, the question people kept asking was “what are we going to do without you?”, she said.

To start with, she wrote a step by step job description, but said some things only come up once a year and “You have to be doing it to remember every step,” she said.

Thoele is still available to come in an help. Her replacement, Megan Martin, “keeps a list and calls me when it gets too long,” said Thoele. 

Thoele also has trust in the system. “Megan will do just fine, give her time. It took me 41 years to learn all of it,” said Thoele.

She also realizes the business office will continue changing. When Thoele began working at the school, they used hand ledgers for a lot of things. “All the work was checked and double-checked by hand,” she said. “There was no computer to check for your work.” The first computers we used were punch card computers.

She said Bob Rego was the business manager then, at a time when the superintendent was more of a public figure and the business manager made the economic decisions for the school. She said Rego worked long hours, but was thourough and a good teacher.

Her title when she retired was; payroll/human resources/risk management, but she said she has done just about everything in the business office. She started out working in accounts receivable and later in accounts payable. She filled in as payroll clerk, went to school for one year to become qualified to do purchase orders, took over grant reporting, resource management and human resources duties.

Even though she is still in the same department of the school district, Thoele is now in her fifth location with the business office.  She started in the old rooms behind the gymnasium, moving to a temporary building, to the college, to the Freshwater building and then back to the high school.

Thoele was one of the people who piloted the Skyward system, along with a few other Minnesota schools. They spent six months doing double the work, entering data into their existing system and also into Skyward, which is now an international company.

Thoele also worked for several entities that ran their finances through the school, including the vocational system, Freshwater Education District and ESCU, which later became NJPA. She also worked through the pairing /merger with Motley, which meant keeping a separate set of books for Motley.

The business office has to know all the state rules and regulations, the reasons for those rules,  because it’s not uncommon for people to ask “‘why are they doing this,’ or ‘why do we have to do it this way?’” she said. When people who don’t work in the business office asks those questions, Thoele can only tell them “the state says we have to do it.”

Thoele doesn’t have specific retirement plans, except “number one, take a vacation,” she said. Her schedule and her husband’s schedule never meshed too well, so it was hard to take a long trip, but it may just work now.

As far as staying busy, Thoele said “I have a long list of projects  that I may or may not get to.” She plans to do some volunteering in the community but hasn’t made any commitments yet. “Now is the time to relax and unwind,” she said, “I can find things to do if I want to.”

Looking back at 41 years in the school district’s business office, Thoele said it was the people in the school who made it worthwhile. “I can’t begin to remember all the people who came through, a lot of staff have come and gone,” she said.


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