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Kisacky retires after 42 years at M State Wadena

How long has Pat Kisacky worked on the Wadena campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College?

Here's a hint: When she began, students paid no tuition; it was covered by state and federal funds. There were only two dozen employees on the campus: two secretaries, three administrators and about 18 faculty members. Women — both staff and students — were required to wear dresses and heels to work and classes. Students rented textbooks for $30 a year.

When Kisacky retired Tuesday, she had worked for the college for 42 and a half years, the longest tenure of any of M State's 600 employees. Her first day on the job at what was then the Wadena Area Technical Institute was Nov. 22, 1971, when she came to work as bookkeeper/secretary after finishing the Business and Office Education program at the college.

Her salary was $285 a month — "big bucks when minimum wage was 75 cents an hour." She had moved to Wadena from her hometown of Sebeka and intended to stay for three or four years and then find a job in a "big city."

To her, that meant Fargo or St. Cloud, since the Twin Cities were too big. In fact, she turned down a much higher salary with a federal highway transportation agency because it would have required a move to St. Paul.

Any regrets? "Nope," she said with the deep chuckle that's familiar to everyone who works on the Wadena campus. "I would never have lasted there."

The move to Fargo or St. Cloud never materialized, either; instead she got married, had a daughter and bought a house in Wadena.

"I enjoy what we do here," Kisacky said. "The success stories I've seen go through here, it's been worth it." She still recalls the work study student who said it was Kisacky's encouragement that inspired her to finish her degree.

"That makes you realize why you're here," said Kisacky, who for many years has handled accounts payable for M State. "I used to have a lot of contact with students ... but I don't anymore. But I still try to say 'good morning' to every student I see on my way into my office in the morning."

She has a special connection with one M State student — her grandson, Austin Steege, attends the Fergus Falls campus and played football for the Spartans, with Kisacky cheering in the stands and snapping pictures at most of his home games.

She recalls when the Wadena campus had its own football and basketball teams and when meals for students were delivered from the local high school in the back of a pickup truck and served in the hallways. But mostly, Kisacky said, she remembers the students who persevered to succeed despite the challenges in their lives and the many colleagues she has enjoyed working with.

"Missing the people I work with, that's going to be the hard part," she said. "It's gotten to be like family."

Although she's retiring from the college, Kisacky plans to continue operating Doves Are Us, the unique business she has with her partner, Dennis. The pair has trained white pigeons which are released as doves at weddings, funerals, memorials and other events throughout Minnesota. Their biggest audience so far was at a Minnesota Twins game where the birds were released during a tribute to veterans at Target Field.

The birds found their way home to Wadena — just like Kisacky.

"I'm a homebody," she said. She plans to fill her retirement enjoying grandchildren Austin, Alexis and Matthew, gardening at her home in rural Wadena, canning the produce she raises, fishing, sleeping in, honing her photography skills ...

She paused. "As you can see, I'm not going to have enough time to do all this," Kisacky said, laughing.

When Wayne Wolden became M State business manager in 1993, Kisacky had already been there 22 years.

Wolden figured Kisacky processed more than 100,000 purchase orders for a total of just under $1 billion during her nearly 43-year career. During that time, almost 40,000 students graduated from the institution.

Kisacky's institutional memory and personality will be missed, Wolden said. "We all wish her the best," he said. "We've become a family here. I owe her so much for what she has taught me."

For the past few weeks Kisacky has been training her successor, Janine Corbin, who has worked in the business services office at M State Wadena for 5 and a half years.

"I have huge shoes to fill - absolutely huge," Corbin said. "Pat is an institution here in herself. She has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me ever since I started working here ... It won't be the same here without her."

Pioneer Journal reporter Bryce Haugen contributed to this report.