Davis’ unique perspective encompasses 30 years of town government
When Kay Davis exited Culver's town hall the last workday of 2011, the door closed on 30 years of her service to the town of Culver as its deputy clerk, through five clerk treasurers and countless changes, major and minor, in the day-to-day operations which keep the town running. She also represents the only consistent witness to the inner world of town operations in a gradually changing Culver over three decades.
Davis, an Argos High School graduate, worked at the State Exchange Bank immediately out of high school, from 1964 to 1970, until daughter Angie was born, after which she continued to fill in part time.
Her first experience working for the town was as a driver -- and later full-time EMT -- for Culver's then-new EMS service. Clerk treasurer at the time Marizetta Kenney asked Davis to fill the deputy clerk position in 1981, as former deputy Mary Wieringa left to become a full-time dispatcher for the Culver police department (the clerk treasurer may appoint whom he or she wishes to be deputy). Davis was sworn in in October, 1981.
Davis, recalls Kenney, was "efficient and friendly, and we worked together on so many aspects of the job, to get it done. She was hired because she was available and willing to do the job, and had the skills to be very good at it. I was never sorry; she helped in so many ways.
Davis says billing in those pre-computer days was extremely time-consuming.
"She took to the ...pre-computer mechanical billing machine," recalls Kenney of Davis, "and even helped me organize how I went about my work.
"She was cheerful and good to the public (and) a very loyal employee," she adds. "I cannot imagine how I could have managed without her."
After 12 years' service, Kenney's tenure gave way to that of Bobbie Washburn (now Ruhnow), who Davis recalls first brought computers into the office.
"Before computers," Davis explains, "we had to make little cards and stamp them every time anybody had a change of address. You had to make these little plates to create a name and address stamp, and then you had to post them using an old Burroughs posting marchine
"It took one week to post them, and one whole day to post penalties.
Now...the bills run themselves in five minutes. It takes about 30 seconds to post the penalties, so that's how far it came. We weren't that speedy yet, though, when Bobbie first came."
(Ruhnow's tenure will be detailed here in the near future).
After 12 years as clerk, Ruhnow didn't run again, and Don Slyh replaced her for four years.
"These are both Democrats and Republicans I've been working for," Davis notes, emphasizing the degree to which party affiliation didn't affect working relationships and functionality of the office.
Chandra Mevis followed with a six-year term, departing two years into her second term (the clerk-treasurer, an elected official, serves for four years at a time). She was followed by Casey Howard, appointed by Culver's Democratic party in Mevis' stead. Howard, after completing the last two years of Mevis' term, was elected for four years of her own, in 2007, a term she just completed as Davis retired.
"Under Casey," Davis explains, "the computers really became more and more prominent. We implemented credit card payments. Casey made many good changes for the town."
The increasing role of computers, Davis says, was -- not surprisingly -- the most dramatic change in the job in her three decades' service.
"One of the silliest things that happened to me was when we first went on the computers," she recalls with a smile. "The man who taught us...lived in Chicago. I was so nervous and I...went in that morning and the computer screen was black, so I called (him) in Chicago on his cell."
Eventually, the computer assistant drove to Culver from Chicago, only to find someone had turned down the brightness levels on the computer screen, an easy fix to Davis' dilemna.
"That was my most embarrassing moment! All the way from Chicago to turn that knob. But he was very good about it."
The deputy clerk and clerk, Davis notes, are the only two who can sign checks, and the deputy works in the clerk's absence. Davis' job was also working with utilities, handling billing for the street and water-sewer departments. She set up hearings for the Board of Zoning Appeals and Plan Commission as well.
Clerks and deputy clerks, Davis says, "checked and balanced each other all the time, which is why I feel the deputy clerk is really needed."
The clerk's office is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday, and a human presence is critical in part because of emergency phone calls such as water leaks in homes.
"You need to get a hold of somebody right now," she says.
Davis recalls various changes to the town hall building, from her and Kenney making curtains for the windows to keep excessive cold and heat down, to the major renovation during Ruhnow's tenure which replaced an entryway on the southwest side of the building with storage, and the reconfiguration of the main entryway.
The town hall staff also handled dispatch for the EMS from 8 to 4 daily, with EMS-directed volunteers taking the remaining hours in their own homes.
"That went all the way up to Don Slyh's time when 911 came in," Davis recalls.
Davis, of course, has seen a plethora of town councils come and go through the years.
"The one they have right now is a good council," she says. "I think (outgoing councilman) Ralph Winters was a good person for the town; he really knew the town and the water-sewer systems -- that was an asset."
The town manager position also came into existence under Davis' watch, and she says she's seen four come and go.
"In leaving, the thing I'm going to miss most is Casey," Davis adds. "I think she was a great clerk treasurer. She's very, very knowledgeable, and her accounting degree was a great asset to her."
She's also shared many of her years with Wayne Bean as police chief.
"He's done an excellent job," she notes. "And his deputies are very well trained."
In fact, Davis is part of a group of town employees with lengthy tenures ranging from 16 to 28 years, including Bean, utilities manager Bob Porter, wastewater manager Joe Sheppard, and park superintendent Kelly Young.
"It's a great asset for the town to have employees stick around that way -- you don't often have that."
Looking back over the years, Davis says changes in the town of Culver have mostly been to the good.
"We've worked on the infrastructure a lot. There are some grants they're working on now that will improve it more.
"We've set up a tree commission, the economic development committee, we've got a very active plan commission and BZA that keep the town going down the right track, and a good building commissioner that makes things go well in town. When I started, the EMS was pretty new, and what an asset that's been to the town. The fire departmen has always got the top-notch equipment, and a dive team -- everything a small town could want. The street department is terrific and Joe's done a good job at the sewer plant. Kelly's done a good job with the park -- there are so many things the town has. It's a beautiful little town, but it swells to a big town with the lake and the Academy in summer."
She notes those individual communities combine in a unique way in Culver, as opposed to many small towns, which are essentially simply the town's culture alone.
"You have so much more with the Academy and lake, so many opportunities -- so many restaurants, a movie theater. These are things most towns our size wouldn't think of having."
Now that she's retired, says Davis, she and husband Larry (also retired) will soon depart on a cruise, and she "can hardly wait" to be able to have her three grandkids around when she wants to.
"We will sit back and enjoy life a little bit," she adds.
Davis says the town of Culver has been "a wonderful place to work" and a job she never dreaded going to each day.
"I can't imagine how the town hall is going to manage without her now," says Kenney of Davis, "I will miss seeing her."
Davis' feeling is mutual. She adds, "I'll miss all the people that come in (to the town hall), and the stories they tell."