Connie Zieske supported social service operations over 48 years
Retiree supported social service operations over 48 years
Connie Zieske retired Friday from the Ward County Human Service Zone as bookkeeper and human resources manager, although her co-workers say her contributions were much more than her job titles suggest.
“She’s been our counselor, making sure that we are all taken care of and that the county has been taken care of,” said Melissa Bliss, Ward County Human Service Zone director.
Zieske has been described as strong, smart, funny and as someone who keeps her cool yet stands her ground, but Bliss added it is Zieske’s knowledge of the internal workings of the department that has made her invaluable.
“I would never have taken this job if it wasn’t for Connie being in that position,” Bliss said. She’s the framework that supports the department, no matter what gets thrown at it, she explained.
Zieske was closing in on 49 years of employment when she retired.
“I’ve just always really enjoyed my job. I really enjoyed the people I work with,” she said. “I just never felt like I needed to look for anything else. I was always happy where I was.”
Zieske had worked briefly at Watne Realtors after graduating from Minot Business College. Upon seeing an opening at the then Ward County Welfare Office, she applied and joined the agency July 1, 1972.
At the time, the office was located in the building later used as the county library until the library moved into the county’s new office building. The former library building was demolished for a parking lot.
Zieske, then a clerk/typist, recalls working in a four-member stenography pool squeezed into a small area of the building. They listened to taped client interviews and transcribed them into documents.
Zieske said the job often tugged at her heart. Her relatively peaceful childhood in Donnybrook didn’t prepare her for the hardships she found other families facing.
“I remember I was so naive when I started. I didn’t even know that people abused or neglected their kids or that there were people in such dire need of help,” she said.
She remembers the state’s first law specifically directed to child abuse and neglect. The North Dakota Child Abuse Reporting Law took effect in July 1975. According to “Child Abuse and Neglect in North Dakota,” by William Friedrich and Jerry Boriskin, only 159 reports had been made from January 1965 to July 1975. In the three months after the law took effect, there were 206 reports involving 424 children.
Zieske moved to the bookkeeper position several years after joining the agency, later renamed Ward County Social Services.
Zieske has watched the agency grow from 30 employees when she started in the original building to around 82 at the North Hill location, where offices moved in the 1980s. Local employment has dropped to around 67 as the state has restructured operations since taking social services under its umbrella a couple of years ago. The department also experienced another name change to Ward County Human Service Zone.
Although her business degree served her well, Zieske said she regrets never going back to college to specifically study accounting.
“Because I did really enjoy accounting and I still do. That’s why I love my job,” she said. “That’s why I stayed that long.”
The best part of the job, though, hasn’t been the numbers on the ledger sheets but the number of people she has met along the way, she said. She’s worked under five department directors – excluding one who stayed only two weeks – and enjoyed working with all of them.
“They were always so appreciative of everything you did. It was a very nice atmosphere to work in,” she said.
In handling human resource duties for the department, she also had an open-door policy with her co-workers, who knew she was there if they needed to talk.
“We’ve always been like a huge family here,” Zieske said. “The co-workers have just been so amazing to work with, and I saw and lived through so many life changes of all our employees – all the happy times and the sadness, illnesses and the deaths. I went through a lot of those. But I still have long-lasting friendships, too, because of working here.”
Involved with the Conference of Social Welfare since 1974, Zieske made friends across the state. Despite her retirement, she hopes to be at the 100th anniversary convention of the group, being planned in Bismarck for September.
Zieske plans to spend time in retirement with family, in going camping and in gardening at the rural property where she and her late husband had built their home and where she still lives. Zieske has two daughters and two granddaughters.
Zieske also plans to continue the job she has held for several years as a field enumerator with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. She assists in conducting producer surveys and collects grain samples in the fall to provide data to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. She also is a volunteer on the supervisory committee of GEM Federal Credit Union in Minot.
She said she leaves the Ward County Human Service Zone with an appreciation for a work that’s often misunderstood by the public.
“I just feel very blessed to have worked alongside amazing people who truly cared and gave a helping hand to so many in need and less fortunate than all of us working in this office,” Zieske said. “People think of welfare as just, ‘we give money to everybody and they don’t have to do anything.’ But there’s so much more – so much more. With the child protection and the foster care and the In-Home Services to prevent foster care placement, they do so much, and they’re very dedicated.
“I’m so glad that there is an agency here who does that for people,” she added. “What I think the general public doesn’t know about social services is that they do a lot of good here. We have a lot of caring people here. That’s what I learned from working here.”
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to email@example.com.)