Longtime school district employee Zena Stefani retires
In the 1980s, Zena Stefani started working as a clerk for Hastings Community Education at 17 years old.
It ended up being the only place she would work — she never left.
Stefani has worked for the district for 38 years and throughout that tenure she has seen the organization grow into its current building and update its class offerings to reflect the times. It's a career that let her indulge in learning and utilize one of her favorite skills — office work.
"There are some days I can remember having just stacks in front of me of paper registrations, and I loved that, I just reveled in it," she said.
In Stefani's career at community education, she's worked in various capacities: as a clerk, helping develop programming and coordinating programs. Almost all of them relied on her ability to work well in the office.
For her, she said it was a perfect fit even before she knew it would become her lifelong job.
"I was very very shy in high school ... I really enjoyed typing," Stefani said. "When it was time to go to lunch, if I was feeling particularly shy that day, I would go to the room and practice typing."
She doubled down on those skills and said she would practice in her study halls as well. In one aspect of her curriculum, it focused on learning how to use a filing system.
Stefani was so thrilled at how organized she could become through the system that she brought it home to her parents, who bred and sold puppies, and used it to organize their business.
"I just knew that the direction I wanted to go was somewhere in office work," Stefani said.
Stefani's coworker Laurie Thrush said that Stefani went to many of the community education classes and thought that it was important work.
"She really believes in community education," Thrush said. "She believed in her programming and she is a lifelong learner."
Thrush said that Stefani also helped others in the department by being up-to-date on new community education offerings and different work policies. She helped build strong relationships with the people that led various classes and that lent itself to long partnerships, she said.
"Zena stayed abreast of what was the trends in community education in terms of instructors and programming that was popular," Thrush said.
Stefani said that throughout her career she had opportunities to leave community education for other opportunities, but didn't take them up. On occasion, she wondered if she was missing out, she said.
"Sometimes I think, well, was I just not brave enough to go out?" Stefani said.
Thrush, who has been working in community education for 33 years, said that community education employees tend to stick around for a long time. It's a fun job and is always evolving, she said.
"There's a lot of longevity in there," Thrush said. "It's a fun job ... and you're addressing the needs of the community.
In addition, Stefani has always prioritized security in her life and that helped her stay too, she said. In retirement, Stefani and her husband plan on travelling abroad through housesitting programs and continuing to do side work.
"We'd like to obviously see a lot of different places," Stefani said.