By Celine Klosterman
In the fall of 1977, Betty Burdock got a call from her pastor asking if she’d like to serve as her parish’s secretary.
“I told him I wasn’t a bookkeeper — I balanced my checkbook,” but not much more, she recalls. But Father Tom Stratman, then pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation in Ottumwa, had faith in her. So Burdock took the job — and kept it for 33 years.
She retired Jan. 29, her 66th birthday, with “mixed emotions.” She jokes about not missing having to meet constant deadlines, but looks forward to traveling with her husband, Harry, and will miss her coworkers. “We’ve always had such a fun time over the years,” she said.
She’s been sharing wisdom learned over the past three decades with Gaby Rangel, who has taken over as secretary. Some of what Burdock has learned she traces to Fr. Stratman, who offered tips on diplomacy: When publicly thanking parishioners, don’t list names unless you’re sure to remember everyone, and then, list names alphabetically. And always proofread.
Burdock also learned to expect the unexpected: “It’s amazing what people ask when they call.” She’s sent parishioners to the pastor, for example, after getting requests to interpret Bible passages. “If I’d known I’d stay here this long, I might have kept a journal because so many interesting things have happened.”
Her duties expanded as the parish evolved and began multicultural ministry and, most challenging for Burdock, embraced computers in the early 1990s. “I’ll never forget the day Father Nick Adam said to me, ‘This week we’re going to do the bulletin on the computer.’ I thought I was going to die.” But he and a friend of Burdock, Lucy Starr, helped. And she adjusted to using certain software programs to keep financial and sacramental records as well — two major duties.
“I don’t think people realize a parish has to be run like a business,” she says. “There’s more to do than just answer the phone, answer the doorbell and do the bulletin.”
The variety held her interest. One of her favorite tasks was greeting new parishioners who visited St. Mary’s to register, and, if needed, helping them find doctors or connecting parents with Seton Catholic School in Ottumwa. “It’s always great when that new person walks in, and you get to meet them right at the beginning,” Burdock says. “…I love to help people and I tried to do that when I was here. I felt I was here to serve.”