WORTHINGTON — After 42 years of employment with the city of Worthington, city clerk Janice Oberloh will work her last day Friday.
Oberloh began her tenure with the city in 1977 as a parking meter maid. She recalls fondly how children would run to slide pennies into the meters when they saw her coming.
In the early '80s, then-Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Donald Habicht asked Oberloh if she was available to help clerk in the utilities department. She accepted his offer and eventually moved to utilities clerking full-time.
Part of Oberloh's responsibility in utilities was entering all the utility counts into the terminals when the city installed computers. Day to day, she tracked utility usage, billed residents and ordered shutoffs for nonpayment.
She recounted a particular customer who would come into the utilities office each month to pay her bill in cash. The customer was consistently rude to the utilities staff, throwing her money across the counter and speaking tersely to the person helping her.
Rather than reacting rudely in return, Oberloh decided to treat the customer with kindness.
"I made it my personal mission to make her feel better," Oberloh said. She greeted the customer with a smile and asked how her day was going. After a few months, the customer softened and began arriving to utilities with a more pleasant demeanor.
"I look at that as a personal accomplishment," Oberloh reflected.
In 1996, city offices were remodeled and utilities moved offsite. At the same time, the city clerk was retiring, and the secretary was planning to move into that position, leaving an opening for a new city secretary. Bob Filson, then Worthington's city administrator, encouraged Oberloh to apply for the secretary position, with the idea that she would eventually move up to city clerk.
In 2007, she did just that, and she has been the city clerk ever since.
"I've enjoyed every job I've worked for the city," Oberloh said of her time. "The city is a good employer."
One of Oberloh's favorite parts of her job has been interacting with the public.
"The opportunities to meet people and get to know them is the best part," she said.
Oberloh has also loved nurturing the relationship Worthington maintains with its sister city, Crailsheim, Germany. She and her husband, city council member Alan Oberloh, have been to Crailsheim a number of times.
"We always have a delegation of friends waiting for us in the square over there," she said of their trips. Crailsheim's connection to Worthington is the oldest sister-city relationship in the United States.
"It's a lot of work, but it's well worth it," Oberloh said of the partnership. She encourages all Worthington residents to learn the history of the Crailsheim/Worthington relationship and get involved in preserving it.
Over the course of her time at city hall, Oberloh has watched Worthington grow economically and in demographic diversity. She emphasized that there is a lot happening here, citing the recently approved local option sales tax projects and Memorial Auditorium updates.
She remembers when The Achievement Center opened in 1968 to support immigrants in the community. She recalled that the residents were kind and welcoming toward the newcomers at the time.
Immigration continues to affect Worthington's economy and community. Oberloh feels optimistic that Worthington is still an inviting location for refugees and other new immigrants.
"(Immigration tension) is a growing pain that almost every other community is going through," she explained, adding that she sees Worthington's long history of melding languages and cultures as an asset moving forward.
In retirement, Oberloh looks forward to having more flexibility in her schedule.
"Traveling won't be limited to weekends anymore," she said. She and Alan have already planned a motorcycle trip out to Natchez Trace this summer, as well as another excursion to Germany in September. They look forward to spending more time with their children and grandchildren.
"I told my next-door neighbor, 'That first Monday I don't have to work, I'm going to stand outside with my coffee and wave to you as you leave,'" Oberloh joked.
She also plans to spend more time tending her flowers and watching birds.
"I'll miss the employees. I certainly wish them well here," she said. "But when the previous city clerk retired, she didn't look back. That's what I plan to do, too."
Anyone who desires to wish Oberloh well in her retirement may stop by city hall from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday for a coffee event in her honor.