Ethel Ackerman

Mail Center Clerk

University of Northern Iowa, News Release



CEDAR FALLS -- Ethel Ackerman's job description never listed championing the cause of professional development for University of Northern Iowa clerical personnel, but during more than 30 years' employment at the University, she became one of its stalwarts.

Mrs. Ackerman, a clerk in the mail center, retired in January. She took a few minutes before she left to reflect on progress in clerical concerns and mail room automation at UNI.

"The Committee on the Administration of Clerical Personnel is where I got started in all the professional committees," she said. "I enjoy it, and I just can't any 'No.' Once you get involved, you meet new people, learn new things and want to stay involved."

CACP was an advisory group which made recommendations to Northern lowa's administration. Since the clerical workers voted in late October to be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, this function is now the responsibility of AFSCME.

Members of UNI's clerical staff have supported a campus professional group for decades. Mrs. Ackerman was active in the UNI Association of Office Personnel, serving as president and secretary. In addition, she was president and a board member of the Iowa Association of Educational Office Personnel.

She is a committee member of the professional standards program of the National Association of Educational Office Personnel. And, in 1976, when UNI hosted the national convention for the NAROP, she was co-chairman for the educational portion of the program.

In her typical, businesslike fashion, Mrs. Ackerman seemed disconcerted about taking time from her job to be interviewed. She talks in a no-nonsense fashion, seemingly eager to get back to her tasks.

"Education (for clerical personnel) is very important,". she said. "Through the professional standards program of the national association, we offered information about how to do our jobs better, as well as classes in things like astronomy and mechanics, things outside of work we can use to grow.

"It was during our convention that the Association first offered continuing education units. Dr. (Raymond) Schlicher was dean then." CEUs measure professional training which is not related to a traditional academic program, much like semester hours measure courses in a degree program.

In addition, UNI offers a one-day workshop each spring for UNI staff members and clerical personnel within 100 miles of campus. Predictably, Mrs. Ackerman has been deeply involved in this, too.

"It (the conference) started in 1963 as a real small workshop," she said. "I remember one year we had a panel discussion between secretaries and bosses. Dr. (Daryl) Pendergraft said it was too good to keep small." Pendergraft, who died in 1975, was a UNI administrator in several capacities, including acting president in 1969 and 1970.

Now the conference attracts hundreds of people each year. This year's meeting is slated for March 20.

A few minutes pass, and Mrs. Ackerman becomes more at ease. Perched atop a secretary's chair, she often lowers her head and tugs at her glasses as she thinks.

Her career at the University started in 1950 as a typist in the video office. She left the University in 1953 to raise her family and returned in 1956, as a typist in the same office.

In 1960, she transferred to the Public School Relations office and supervised the mailings. She stayed there until 1974, when she was named Clerk IV in the Mail Center.

When she recalls how many places she has worked with essentially the same job, she laughs and says, "I've worked for several bosses. The University tossed the mail center around."

When asked what the title Clerk IV means, she cracks, "It's when you've been here a while and they don't know what to do with you anymore."

Mrs. Ackerman, who is known throughout campus as Ethel, is back to business when she talks about a typical day.

"We start right in with the mailing. There are time constraints every day. It all has to be sorted, bundled, identified by bundles, bagged. We have to prepare statements for the post office for bulk mailings.

"Today we have 74 bags going down, a little over 19,000 pieces. Then there are three other small bags. We usually have from 10 to 74 bags. Some large mailings, like 'Northern Iowa Today,' take almost a week to get out. We're constantly moving materials."

Advances in technology have made her job easier through the years, she said.

"The new machines speed things up. We now have a Kirk-Rudy machine that can address 10,000 pieces in one hour. We have a stuffer-inserter that can place up to four pieces of mail in an envelope, stamp it, and seal it."

Then there is the old equipment, like the Addressograph which was used when she started at UNI, and still can be called into service in an emergency.

"They just don't wear out. They wear people out."

As for the future, she says, "I may make a few short trips, but I plan to stay around Cedar Falls. I've lived in the area all my life."

She also plans to stay active in Cedar Falls Business and Professional Women, the March of Dimes, and the Cedar Falls Emergency C.B. Club. She'll read a little more, clean out a few closets, and catch up on some craft work, she says.

But, retirement for Mrs. Ackerman may take a little getting used to.

"I feel the University has been my second home. I'm going to miss it and hope they'll miss me, too."

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