"Many people don't stick with something long, and I have. I have seen God at work and felt supported," said JoAnn Schlimgen, who is retiring as the Dakotas Conference Assistant Director of Finance and Administration.
JoAnn grew up in Parkston, South Dakota, in a family of 10—mom and dad, three boys and five girls. After graduating from high school, she attended Mitchell Technical School. At 18, JoAnn Schlimgen began working for the Dakotas Conference in the Finance Department.
"It was February 17, 1982, when I started. I graduated from Mitchell Technical Institute the previous spring. Then I worked at the Mitchell Credit Bureau for six months, and they closed," said JoAnn Schlimgen, who will retire after 41 years of service. "The Mitchell Credit Bureau used the same software and programmer the Dakotas Conference used. So, they told me about the job."
Ivan Bartel was the Dakotas Conference Treasurer at the time. "Ivan and his wife both worked at the conference. I started with doing some basic bookkeeping," said JoAnn. "Back then, we had only one computer for the entire office. We all shared it. We went into the computer room and typed in our entries. So, we had to be on a schedule."
She has worked for six conference treasurers, Ivan Bartels, Bill Johnson, Roger Campbell, Don Armstrong, Jeff Pospisil, and Jim Ducker.
Communication has changed over the past four decades. JoAnn recalls mailing everything. "We would print and spend a lot on postage," she said. "Now everything is sent digitally by e-mail or another way."
Her role grew from basic bookkeeping to doing payroll, working with insurance, and caring for matters related to the building and property that the Dakotas Conference owns. Shlimgen's job title moved from office assistant to Dakotas Conference Assistant Director of Finance and Administration. She moved from an hourly wage to a salary.
The number of employees in the Dakotas Conference Finance Department expanded. "When I came, there were two people, and now there are three. There has always been a person who worked with pensions and benefits, but they were not always present in the conference office," said JoAnn.
She has attended many meetings with the various committees and agencies that care for the financial matters of the conference, including the Conference Council of Finance and Administration, the Board of Trustees, the Board of Pensions, and the Committee on Global Missions.
Caring for the finances of the various ministries was a part of the job she enjoyed. "You work with the various ministries like Solar Oven Partners, camping, Spirit Lake, and others. I got to know them and took care of the finance part of the ministries. You felt like you were part of something bigger. You got to know the people," said JoAnn.
She recalls various staff that worked at the conference office. "We used to have the best coffee breaks. We would go on walks. Just have fun together. We also had a lot of fun Christmas parties," said JoAnn. "At staff meetings, we would take turns leading devotions. We got to know each other a little more that way."
Going to the annual conference, keeping the registration flowing, and operating a temporary office was part of the job. "We would make the trip as a staff to the conference. We would try to have one meal together as an entire staff. That was nice. The conference is a great time to meet and get to know people from the entire conference," she said.
JoAnn has connected with generations of families throughout her career. When she began, Lloyd Grinanger was working with the Foundation. She has also worked with his sons, Howard and Eric Grinager, now retired elders, in the Dakotas Conference. As she leaves the position, Lloyd's granddaughter, Rebecca Grinager Trefz, serves as the Southeast District Superintendent and Director of Ministries in the Dakotas Conference.
"I worked with all the Grinagers. I also worked with the Kroger family—Gene, Greg, Karl, the Lints—Phil, Mary Lee, Paul, and others. I have worked with five bishops—Bishop Bills Lewis, Bishop Mike Coyner, Bishop Deb Kiesey, Bishop Bruce Ough, and Bishop Lanette Plambeck. They have all been great to work with," said JoAnn.
Traveling to training in meetings in New York, Boston, Nashville, San Antonio, and St. Loius has helped JoAnn connect with others throughout the denomination. It was a way to see how other conferences were doing things and share what the Dakotas Conference was doing.
"We had the DAVID system—Dakotas Video System before anyone else even thought about doing something like that. It was a way to cut down on people traveling to meetings. Now everyone knows Zoom, and we do a lot of meetings that way," JoAnn said.
Keeping track of multiple conference vehicles was sometimes a challenge. "Every director, district superintendent, conference treasurer, and camps had vehicles. We also have some trailers that we got for camping and disaster relief. I would track the vehicle's insurance, license plates, and maintenance. We have reduced the number of vehicles, so that helps," she said.
The way that bills are paid and payroll happens has changed. JoAnn shared, "We used to have to pay bills and do payroll by hand. We would write or print the checks and mail them to people. Now we use electronic deposit, and an out-of-state company prints and sends checks. We were one of the first companies in the Mitchell area and one of the first United Methodist Conferences to use direct deposit."
Clergy moves happen each summer through a company called Jobbers. JoAnn has worked with the cabinet and Jobbers to make the moves happen smoothly. "I have worked with the cabinet and our moving company to get them the names, addresses, and contact information for the clergy that were moving. Some years there have been a lot of moves. It all happens in a compressed timeframe of May through July."
Mission and outreach ministries hold a special place in her heart. "We did a lot of work with missions, special offerings, mission kit collection. There were events for hunger in North Dakota and South Dakota. In South Dakota, we called it the In Gathering. In North Dakota, the events were called Mission in Motion," said JoAnn. "We did some work with Heifer International. People actually brought heifer cows and horses to the event."
Money collected at the mission events was distributed to world hunger and local hunger ministries.
"We tracked where things were to be distributed as well as collected thousands of UMCOR kits," she said. "The staff would take trips to our Dakotas Conference missions like Tree of Life and Solar Ovens. We would work there as a team. That was fun.
In retirement, she is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren. JoAnn and their husband Ken have two grandsons—Bennet, son of daughter Kelli and husband Kyle, and grandson Dawson, newly born to parents Neil and Shantel Schlimgen. Kelli is expecting a child to make it three grandchildren for the Schlimgens this fall.
"I look forward to slowing down, spending time with my family, and traveling. It will be nice not always to go 100 miles per hour," said JoAnn. "I hope people will remember me for trying to help them and answer their questions the best I could. I have been blessed to get to know so many great people."