Karla Essner has announced her retirement from Notre Dame Regional High School after 15 years as a mainstay in the school’s office.
“Karla has been such a blessing to work with all of these years. She is always someone I can go to as a sounding board and get solid feedback along with a bit of good humor. I appreciated her as a parent, a colleague and a friend,” said Notre Dame Principal Tim Garner.
Her job started in October 2007, but she had been a volunteer at Notre Dame in various capacities since 1995 when her oldest child entered high school.
In 2000, Essner was one of the founding members of the group that dubbed themselves the Notre Dame Press Club. It was a group of volunteers who gathered each month to process the monthly mailing of the school’s newsletter. Part of the job was “pressing” (folding) the multipage newsletter to fit in the envelope.
Essner was also a co-chair of Notre Dame’s Capital Campaign – Phase II, 2001-03, and worked bingo as a group member, then as a team captain, and later as a manager.
Currently as an administrative assistant, Essner’s job comprises of student attendance and various office duties. She monitors the main office switchboard, processes voicemails, answers calls, directs visitors, and facilitates emails and other communications. Her job includes support for students, faculty, parents, and administrative needs, as well as producing a daily bulletin and compiling and submitting various school reports. She has tasks associated with Activity Week, graduation, and other events throughout the year. In many ways, the school office functions as a one-stop resource center. Essner says, “If you have a question, we can usually either answer it or tell you how to get the answer.”
“Karla has been a staple in the main office for the last 15 years. Her work ethic, attention to detail and support of all things Notre Dame is admirable,” said Assistant Principal Paul Unterreiner.
Before Notre Dame
Before her time at Notre Dame, Essner was a retail accounting clerk for Wetterau, Inc. in Scott City in the late 1970’s. The department she worked in handled weekly payroll and accounts payable services for IGA (Independent Grocer Association) retail grocery stores within the site’s service area, which extended from south of the St. Louis metro area to the state of Mississippi, and from the middle of southern Illinois to the middle of southern Missouri.
Essner later worked for the diocesan newspaper, The Mirror, 1989-2004, as a reporter, photographer, feature writer, and the newspaper’s membership liaison to the Associated Church Press. During that time, she covered diocesan, parish, and organization news on the east side of the diocese, as well as diocesan-wide events like ordinations and liturgical celebrations, the annual Diocesan Youth Conference, and the annual marriage anniversaries recognition, to name a few. She also authored a monthly column called Parish Spotlight which featured the unique aspects of a different parish each month.
How Essner came to work at Notre Dame
In the autumn of 2007, Essner was a member of a Wednesday morning Bible study group of St. Vincent de Paul parishioners. Many in the group were connected to Notre Dame as parents, alumni, or parents of graduates, so they knew Jean Hermsdorfer, the school office secretary.
In late September, the group received word that Hermsdorfer’s cancer had returned and her prognosis was not good.
Essner said, “after some discussion, we decided that, as a group, we would like to help in any way we could, perhaps with delivering meals, providing transportation, or whatever type of support was needed. I was tasked with contacting Notre Dame to deliver our group’s offer and gauge how we could assist.
“I remember walking into the school office and explaining our offer to Bonnie Westrich, the principal’s secretary. She listened patiently and asked me to wait while she disappeared down the hall to the office of Brother David Migliorino, OSF. She soon reappeared with the words, ‘Brother David wants to see you.’ So, I dutifully headed down the hallway myself,” Essner said.
“Brother David confirmed that Jean’s health was expected to decline and the timeline was uncertain. He needed someone to come in immediately and work with Jean, learning as much of her job as possible and as quickly as possible. And could I do that?
“After I got over the initial shock of his offer, we worked out an arrangement in which my position would be considered part-time and temporary with the goal of learning enough to help train Jean’s successor. On my very first day, Jean was struggling and had to go home early, so I stayed all day and filled in as best as I could. The next day was also a full day, and so were all the others after that. By God’s grace and Jean’s determination and dedication to Notre Dame, I was gifted with the opportunity of continuing to learn from her through almost a full school year until she died in August 2008.
“So my part-time, temporary job is coming to completion after 15 years,” said Essner.
When asked what she’ll miss the most Notre Dame, Essner said “The obvious answer is: the people. My co-worker friends are extraordinary people who do an extraordinary job, day in and day out, with the utmost dedication and love for this sacred ground that is Notre Dame Regional High School. They make the school what it is and continue its legacy of excellence.
“I’ll miss the hectic pace of a building full of energetic teenagers and all their mirth, vitality, and bright dreams for the future. I will also miss sharing their daily struggles and praying for their guidance and consolation. I’ll miss being a witness to the incredible acts of kindness and generosity that happen at Notre Dame every day.”
When it comes to her retirement, Essner says she “has a long list of things that the increased flexibility of retirement will allow,” starting with having more time for grandkids, as she doesn’t want to miss their young years. Essner also plans to get involved in volunteer work, spend time with friends, pursue hobbies, and do some traveling.
“Karla will be difficult to replace but I wish her all the best as she enjoys more time with her grandkids,” said Garner.
Unterreiner echoed the sentiment saying, “not only has Karla been an amazing co-worker, but I’m proud to call her a friend. Well, done Karla, well done my friend.”