LAWRENCE COUNTY Summer job became career
Janet Kalajainen hopes to run for at least one more term before retiring.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- It was only supposed to be a summer job, but Janet Kalajainen's stay in Lawrence County's register of wills and recorder of deeds office turned into a career.
Kalajainen, 47, a Democrat, will be sworn in Monday to her sixth term as the county's register of wills and recorder of deeds.
Her nearly 20-year career in that elected office started simply with a summer job right out of high school.
"I started working here on June 12, 1972. I was 17 at the time. If you would have told me I would retire here, I would have never believed you," she said.
And her second day on the job proved to be the most exciting when there was a shooting at the county courthouse, just down the hall from her office.
"We heard bang, bang, bang ... . That was my second day of work. I was 17 years old and I was thinking, 'Wow it's exciting to work here,'" she said.
She never thought to call her mother, Joann Kalajainen, and tell her she was fine.
"I never thought that she would be worried, but she was home worrying and thinking all this stuff was going on at the courthouse. We've never had anything that exciting happen again, but it's how I started my years here," she said.
What happened: Despite the excitement, she still considered it a summer job until one of the full-time clerks died and Kalajainen was offered the position.
"I wanted to go to college so bad, but my parents thought I was so lucky to get a job that they kind of wanted me to stay working," she said.
By 1976 Kalajainen had worked her way up to the chief deputy position in the office. She decided to run for office in 1981 at age 26.
"I knew I was as far as I could possibly go in this office. I wanted to go away to school and had applied to art schools and I said, 'Just let me try and if I make it, I will stay,'" Kalajainen said. She dabbles in oil painting and watercolors and had thought about making art a career.
Her parents, especially her mother, continued their support over the next five elections when she was unopposed only twice in her six bids for the job.
"My mother was my biggest fan. She came to every campaign function," she said. Joann Kalajainen died in April. Her father, Donald, lives in Shenango Township.
Kalajainen married attorney Louis Pomerico only after being elected to her first term, and the couple has three children, Dean, 17, Ciara, 14, and Alyssa, 11.
Kalajainen said keeping her elected office and beginning motherhood was the most difficult time in her career.
Advances: And through it all she helped bring the register of wills and recorder of deeds from an office that kept all records by hand to one that is now computerized and paperless. Eventually she would like to make the records available on the Internet, she said.
Her tenure in office has led her to be at the helm of several statewide professional organizations including serving as a delegate for the Pennsylvania State Association of Elected County Officials and serving as secretary and past president of the Pennsylvania Register of Wills Association.
Lawrence County has a combined register of wills and recorder of deeds office. In larger counties, those offices are run by two elected officials.
Work as recorder of deeds involves handling paperwork for all property transactions, mortgages and power of attorney documents. They handled 18,089 documents in 2001 and generated about $280,000 in revenue from fees, she said.
The register of wills handles all estate matters and generated about $60,000 in fees from the 587 estates that were filed in that office last year.
The county also generated about $35,000 from the $4 million paid by county residents in 2001 from inheritance taxes, Kalajainen said.
The office still has six full-time workers, the same number of employees working in the office when Kalajainen started in 1972.
Staff members tend to stay for long periods.
Kim Disque, chief deputy for the recorder's office, has been there 26 years, and Gerilynne Kuczynski, chief deputy of register of wills, has worked in the office for 15 years.
Both say Kalajainen is the reason they have stayed.
"She is really very family-oriented and very fair-minded," Kuczynski said.
Kalajainen said she plans to finish this upcoming term and run for at least one more four-year term in office and reach the county's retirement age of 55.
"I love my job so much. I like to come to work to serve the public. You never know who is going to walk through the door. It's something different every day," she said.