Joyce Schomburg retires
With Joyce Schomburg and the quest for a chair at Mid America Publishing
Joyce’s existential worry isn’t about the complexity and utter simplicity of life, nor is it about impact and purpose. Her worry when she wakes up in the morning is where her chair will be when she arrives at Mid-America Publishing.
For 36-and-a-half years, Schomburg has moved around a lot, that is, at the office on 9 2nd St NW.
When she arrived at the Chronicle and Times in June 1980, she worked in the front lobby, then she moved to the back office, then a nook with current issues, and currently splits her time between the two, when she’s not stopping by the desks of her co-workers to check in or start a conversation with an impromptu joke.
At the end of 2016, Schomburg ended her tenure at Mid-America Publishing, electing to retire at 79-years-old. Schomburg is most recognized for her weekly “Looking Back,” section in the Hampton Chronicle, which she’s done for over 20 years. But she’s also been a proofreader, billed classifieds and advertisements, kept track of subscriptions and answered phones.
She explains that she’s never been interviewed before, except for that time she was featured in a cookbook for Iowa Falls, Iowa for her Rhubarb Pie and her chocolate sheet cake, the latter, though recipe available, has been unsuccessfully replicated by Pam DeVries, Chief Financial Officer.
“I tried making it,” DeVries said, “but I can’t. I thought I was reasonably able to, but it’s not the same.”
Schomburg proclaims she doesn’t do any tricks, not like that guy on TV can. She just loves to come to work.
“There was never a day that I did not want to come to work,” Schomburg said. “It was just like a big family. I’ve never said ‘oh, how I hate this job.’ Because I loved what I did.”
She has been dubbed by the staff of Mid-America Publishing as the “Hampton Encyclopedia,” for her extensive knowledge and experience of the town and its people for — 79 years worth.
Schomburg was born in 1937, in the Hampton area, by the old Maysville School House, and grew up on her parents’ 160 acre-farm. She was responsible for milking five cows in the morning and night, as well as mowing the lawn, a chore taking almost six hours.
She attended seventh grade at that old school house, and followed that with attendance at Geneva for high school. At a time where students could either go to Hampton or Geneva for high school, Schomburg told her father that she would rather go to Geneva because Hampton was “clique-y.”
There she played for the girls’ basketball team.
“We had a basketball at home, but I had never played before,” Schomburg said. “I just loved the sport.”
Schomburg’s position was guard and her career points are one basket worth two points. She also played in the band on the oboe.
“The oboe was a windy instrument and they said that I was windy,” Schomburg said. “It has a very definitive sound. Everyone hears you and your mistakes.”
In 1956, Schomburg graduated high school and followed it with attendance at Hamilton Business College, Mason City, taking stenographers courses. The course was slated to take nine months, but Schomburg finished it in seven.
After finishing business school, she married her husband Bob in 1961, whom she had met in downtown when he asked her to ride around in his truck with him. After they were married, the two purchased 160 acres southwest of town, where they raised hogs. In 1963, she had her son Todd.
She drifted to several businesses in Hampton, working for the then-Farmer’s Hybrid as a secretary, the Hampton Co-op, followed by then-First National Bank of Hampton from 1968-1974 as first a teller, then a receptionist for customers. She then returned to the farm to help Bob, making use of her experience mowing the lawn and cleaning up manure for six years.
At 16-years-old, Todd told her that he and Bob “didn’t need her on the farm anymore.”
“I don’t think he realized what he was saying at the time,” Schomburg said. “But I said, ‘really, then I’m going to town.”
Word on the street was that the newspaper in Hampton was hiring, and Schomburg was hired on the spot by then-publisher Joe Roth, who hired her without an application or spelling test. And so began Schomburg’s quest to keep a consistent chair at the Hampton Chronicle.
She describes that there used to be two desks in the lobby, and that the counter was much closer to the door. She answered the phone, greeted customers, handled subscriptions and payments and proofed when there needed to be proofing. The old printing method didn’t always give her ample opportunities to edit.
When the press changed, Schomburg was then tasked with reading a majority of the paper and proofing articles, as well as classifieds and legal notices. When Agnes Berneman died (the previous writer of Looking Back), Schomburg took over.
In 1999, Schomburg was 62-years-old and reduced her work week to three days a week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — and whenever needed.
One day in 2009, she came in to the office to find that the lobby was rearranged and no longer had her desk. She found that she would be working in the back office with the remainder of bookkeeping. But as for her station for Looking Back, that traveled from the lobby, to two other corners, before settling in current issues room, and went from typewriter, to digitized. After copying articles from the indexes, she’d type it into a typewriter, and a free member of bookkeeping would transpose it on Microsoft Word. Eventually, she was just given a computer to type it.
Schomburg said that the technological revolution didn’t frustrate her much in the 2000s. She was used to keeping cards for addresses and billing information in countless rolodexes, as well as keeping paper bills. Employees in bookkeeping agreed with her evaluation, explaining Schomburg is an online banker and logged onto Facebook about two years ago.
In fact, one of the big challenges she faces isn’t computation, rather finding things to compute, said Deb Chaney, circulation manager.
“She always says she can’t find anything,” Chaney said. “I say ‘just take what you wrote five years ago and move it to 10 years,’ to which she says that people have already read it.”
The hardest transition for Schomburg was moving to the bookkeeping office. She enjoyed greeting people when they walked in and answering the phones. She says she can recognize most voices on the phone without them saying their name, and recognizes almost every face.
Both DeVries and Chaney said that Schomburg felt strongly about customer service and taking care of people.
“I think it was different for our customers [when she moved],” Chaney said. “She would mother hen anyone and take care of everyone.”
Schomburg has worked under two other publishers since she started, and estimates she worked with over 15 editors. In this time is when she earned the moniker of the “Hampton Encyclopedia.” With the turn around in editors, Schomburg would have to explain the different spellings of names and would be a voice for the area’s history for those who were new.
“Most people I work with don’t know the people at all; there’s different spellings to different names and I see it wrong all the time,” Schomburg said. “I don’t tell them they made a mistake, I just want them to know for the future — they don’t remember like I did. I think when your 79-years-old, you should finally give up the ship and give the younger person a chance.”
One thing Schomburg wishes she could do better was proofing stories. She says that she never really told people she proofed, but when she’s gone, people will probably notice.
“I could always do better,” Schomburg said. “If I did make a mistake in proofing, that killed me, but I did get over that. There can be 2-3 people that look and miss it. I never liked it when it happened to me. Through the years, I’ve been pushed a lot of work and that’s when you make more mistakes.”
On whether or not Schomburg would do it again, she said she would, and wouldn’t change a thing. When Bob died in 2008, she pondered retiring in 2009, but said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself.
“Everybody should do what they like to do,” Schomburg said. “It makes their workload easier. You need a little niche. Find it and look for it. It doesn’t just come to you, you have to work for it. This is something I like.”
At a work gathering last December, Schomburg was gifted a watch, which she said she needed because she hadn’t been on time recently, though her attendance record at work could be described as spectacular; no one really knows when she hasn’t been at work.
“I started first-time proofreading in college, but never to the extent I did [at Mid-America Publishing],” said Tina Lubben. “[Schomburg] was really patient with me when I started here again two years ago. There were times when I was frustrated and she either encouraged me or slapped me with a paper and told me to straighten up.”
Schomburg doesn’t know what she’s going to do in retirement. She says she’ll probably try to start and finish the book her friend bought her several years ago, or hang out with people at the senior center, or watch some TV.
“I know when I joined the company almost 20 years ago, she was very helpful to me and to everyone here at the company,” said Publisher and President of Mid America Publishing Ryan Harvey. “[Schomburg] is going to be missed dearly by our team here. I know she’ll stop by on occasion to visit with her co-workers.
“I know I can speak for everyone when I say we can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done for the company and our employees over the years.”
Schomburg says that everyone expects her to stop in frequently, and hasn’t said she won’t but has also said that it’s time for her to take a break.
Whatever the case may be, Schomburg has moved around enough places to guarantee herself at least one chair at the office.
Above: Some of the MAP staff and Joyce at her retirement party.