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Holmgren concludes 50-year career in firm

By Staff | Mar 31, 2011

Imagine someone hiring you at age 17 to do very important work – let’s make that extremely important work – and having the confidence that you can carry it out.

Imagine then that you stay in that same job for 50 years.

That describes Kathryn Holmgren who is concluding a 50-year career with Pelzer Law Firm today. A come-and-go reception will be held for Kathryn 4-6 p.m. Friday at the Sleep Inn community room.

Holmgren started with the law firm of William O. Anderson and Max Pelzer Feb. 18, 1961 while still a senior at Estherville High School.

Her teacher, Jean Pfeifer, initiated the job training program at EHS. Kathryn had gone to three other businesses seeking job training while in school, but with no luck.

Kathryn’s uncle, Bill Van Den Berg, knew Bill Anderson who had told her uncle he needed a secretary. Her uncle told her to apply, but Kathryn was a little hesitant since she was still in high school.

Then one day she was called for an interview.

She went to the law office on the upper level of Emmet County State Bank. Anderson was busy, and asked if she could talk to Pelzer who was obviously impressed – he asked her to start the next day, a Saturday.

Kathryn worked 3-4:30 every day after school and Saturday mornings until school was out.

Since she had the basics in high school, that was enough to get her by as she continued to learn on the job. She didn’t work from June 1 through July 4 and considered going to business school, then was called back to work where she had been ever since, along with a brief stint fall 1961 with the Kennedy and Clark law firm where she worked mornings while she was at Anderson and Pelzer in the afternoons.

Kathryn gives a lot of credit for her training to Pfeifer and George Hess who taught bookkeeping.

“Due to his good instruction, I just love bookkeeping,” Kathryn said. “Those two teachers just stand out.”

The shorthand and manual typewriting skills Kathryn learned in school also applied directly to the job.

Just like anyone else who has worked in a law office, Kathryn learned a lot more than secretarial or administrative assistant duties. She recalls one particularly harrowing duty was having to take the grand jury minutes while Pelzer was trying a murder case as county attorney. She had to take the grand jury minutes and come home that night and put the essential elements in the information.

“That was a big challenge,” Kathryn said.

She worked on doctors’ wage reports and specialized in probate, real estate and bookkeeping. She also did tax returns for estates. “I just learned it by doing it,” Kathryn said.

Her career experience changed Kathryn forever.

“I was a very quiet, shy person when I started this job,” she said. However, over time she developed the self-confidence to do whatever was asked of her.

During her career, Kathryn has worked with six attorneys, 23 other secretaries and maybe a half dozen seasonal employees. In addition to Anderson and Pelzer, she worked with Alan Stowell in the early 1970s, Jim Hart from 1976-2004, Jennifer Bennett Finn over the past five years and most recently with Christopher Fuhrman, Pelzer’s grandson.

One of her biggest surprises has been how down to earth members of the Estherville business community are.

And she attributes much of her success to the work ethic her parents instilled in her.

“I love coming to my job,” Kathryn said. “I enjoyed meeting the people and many of those became close friends.”

And then there’s everyone in the office.

“We’re just like a family in a small office like this,” Kathryn said. “When one’s hurting the whole place is hurting.”

“It’s been very rewarding career,” said Kathryn. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

One curious fact is that she and Pelzer have the same birthday – only a number of years apart.

When you’re retiring, people always ask if you’re going to travel or pick up neglected hobbies. Kathryn does enjoy taking trips, but when people ask if she plans on taking up quilting, Kathryn shrugs up a smile.

“My work is my craft.”

Pelzer, who started with the firm just months before Kathryn, is probably the best one to sum up her qualifications.

“She does not have the title as a paralegal nor a lawyer, but she could be either one,” Pelzer said.