WORTHINGTON — During Kris Ray’s early years as Nobles County’s deputy auditor, she would cringe when her annual retirement statements arrived and proclaimed she would reach retirement eligibility in August 2018.
“I wanted to burn them,” she said with a laugh. “I couldn’t even think that far into the future.”
That time, though, passed quickly.
So quickly that Ray, who was eligible for retirement a year ago, stuck around a little longer. Her last day on the job was Friday — 35 years after stepping into the auditor’s office as Ken Roberts’ newest hire.
Ray was just 22 years old when she accepted the role as deputy auditor. A 1980 graduate of Worthington High School, her experience included a year of secretarial school at Jackson Vo-Tech and two years with Smith Trucking — when it was still a small company headquartered at Round Lake.
She joined the county at a time with the Public Employee Retirement Account (PERA) had the Rule of 90 in place. That meant when she reached a point where her age plus her years of county employment reached 90, she could retire. While the rule is no longer in place, Ray and others hired back in those days were grandfathered in.
With her husband, Ron, still working at Bedford Industries — “He’s a little envious, but he’s accepted it now” — Ray hasn’t really planned out her retirement.
“I just want to take the time to enjoy the things I haven’t been able to,” she said. “I have projects at home that I want to get done; and spend more time with my family (daughter Kelsey and son Nathan both reside in Sioux Falls, S.D.).”
In recent years, Ray has often envied the people she sees out walking on the trails on her way to work each morning. Come next week, she will be one of the walkers watching the traffic pass her by.
It will be different, though, not reporting to the office and working alongside her coworkers to assist the public each day. That’s what Ray will miss most.
“I enjoy the variety of work that we do in this office,” she said. “I enjoy working with the public.”
In 35 years, she worked under four different bosses — Roberts, Sharon Balster, Beth Van Hove and, since January, Joyce Jacobs. The greatest changes to affect the office were the technological advancements.
“When I started, one of my primary functions was to operate the switchboard,” Ray recalled. “All of the calls came into our office, and we had to transfer or take messages. There was one computer in the office that we all shared.”
When both the county auditor and treasurer retired in January 1994, the two offices were combined. Ray’s work up until a couple of years ago included processing county payroll. That job has since shifted to the county’s finance department, leaving Ray to concentrate more on elections administration.
“A lot of people don’t think about the work that goes into an election,” she said, noting the time involved in testing election equipment and doing all of the reporting each time there is an election. Recent school bond referendums, as well as changes that allow for early voting by absentee ballot, have only added to the workload.
“We’re on our third method of tabulating election results over a period of 35 years,” Ray said. “When I started, it was the punch-card process. The next system was the central count, when everyone would bring their results here to be counted. We’d be here until 3 or 4 in the morning.
“Now the process is precinct counters,” she added. “There again, technology is wonderful.”
Ray was promoted to chief deputy auditor-treasurer in March 2008, and for several months in late 2018, she was the interim auditor-treasurer. It was a role to which she’d never aspired, but one that came out of necessity when the previous auditor-treasurer stepped down before the end of her term.
Ray credits her coworkers for helping get through that stressful time — “I’ve told them numerous times we can be very proud of what we accomplished” — as well as the day-to-day duties.
“Over the years I’ve had awesome coworkers,” she said. “We’ve developed great friendships.”
Ray is leaving her role with Nobles County in good hands, as Cathy Roos has accepted the position. Roos currently serves as assistant to the Nobles County administrator. She will begin her new duties Aug. 5.
“I’m very happy with her being my successor,” Ray said. “I know she will fulfill the role very well.”