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Pella program honors Kuemper secretary Kim Miller

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Kim Miller’s workdays for Kuemper Catholic schools begin as early as 6 a.m., her cellphone ringing at home as teachers need her to find substitutes for the day.

After arriving at 7:30 a.m. at her station in the Kuemper High School main office, her day is filled with answering phones; assisting the heavy traffic of students, faculty and staff; preparing weekly student and faculty bulletins; preparing the monthly newsletter; compiling and ordering instructional supplies; sorting mail into mailboxes; maintaining faculty and staff personnel files; preparing programs for special events such as concerts, plays and graduation; maintaining informational TV screens in the schools; and more.

After leaving school at 4 in the afternoon, she gets a chance to walk her dogs, Chi Chi, a Shitzu-Chihuahua mix, and Macy, a miniature poodle-Shitzu mix, and then have supper with husband Dave, who’s plant manager at Leer (formerly Carroll Coolers). But then her phone might start ringing again, as teachers call that evening knowing they will need a sub the next day.

And Miller handles all this cheerfully, because she believes one of the most important contributions she can make in a day is brightening others’ lives.

“I do like making people laugh, making them smile when they’re having a bad day,” she said. “Being part of the Kuemper family is nice. It’s more than a job; it’s a family here.”

As a key member of that family, Miller was honored recently in Pella Corp.’s Staff Member of the Month recognition program. She received a visit from Pella Carroll Plant Manager Dustin Katje and Human Resources Manager Jeff Heuton, who presented her a mock check representing the $500 she receives for her selection.

A leadership team from the Pella plant chose Miller, who was nominated for the monthly award by Kuemper Registrar Ann Schmitz, who works in the front office with Miller.

Schmitz wrote, “Kim has been working through the entire shutdown in spring, all summer and fall. She steps in and helps EVERYWHERE she is asked to — food services, with summer program, Kuemper Ball helper, registration. Kim is always positive and smiling, even when things are not that great! Most importantly she has worked practically around the clock finding substitutes for our staff while caring and sharing concern for her loyal subs.”

For finding substitute teachers, December was especially busy for Miller, as evidenced by the daily notebook she keeps. Some pages are nearly entirely filled with names of teachers who called in and prospective subs who were contacted.

“I have a pool of subs that I go through,” Miller said. “Some sub only kindergarten through third grade, some only fourth, fifth or sixth, some the high school, some will do any grade. I go through the list and see who’s available to work that day.

“During the COVID season it’s been very, very challenging. … There are days I don’t have a sub. I take that personally because I hate making that call (to an administrator). But I do take it personally because I feel like I failed at my job. But when I don’t have anybody, I don’t have anybody. So then I call the admin and have to try to work it out with them. Then they’re under stress because they’re in the classroom. That doesn’t happen a lot, but during the COVID season, it did happen.”

At her work station, Miller faces a couple of computer screens — one for typing and receiving correspondence, the other used for admittance to the high school and St. Angela Center’s seven entrances and keeping an eye on hallway traffic.

Miller came to Kuemper three years ago after serving as billing consultant at Carroll Area Child Care Center and Preschool, where she built her secretarial skills.

A daughter of Stan and Rose Ambrose of Dunlap, she graduated from Dunlap (now Boyer Valley) High School in 1989. Moving to Logan, she worked both at Casey’s General Store there and in the mailroom at Woodmen of the World Life Insurance in Omaha. When Walmart built a store in Denison, she became a customer service representative there, followed by more than 13 years as manager of Payless Shoe Store in Carroll and then 11 years at Carroll Area Child Care Center and Preschool.

Miller said of deciding to apply for the school position, “I’d seen what Kuemper has done for families, and my kids included. I thought it would be a good work environment. I dealt with little kids at the Child Care Center, which was very fun, and they kept me young.

“I love it thoroughly here. I loved my retail jobs where something different happened every day. It wasn’t like working on a line. Now being here with the high-schoolers and helping guide them so they make the right choices and do the right things, it’s neat to see them grow.

“Kids that were some of my first ones at the day care center have gone through here now. They may come in and ask for a driver’s permit, and I’m like, ‘Really?’ It makes me feel older, but it’s nice to see them. You still remember the ornery ones. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I remember you at the day care. You haven’t changed.’ ”

Miller says she gets pulled a lot of different directions in her fast-paced days, but added, “I like that. It keeps me busy; it keeps me on my toes. And I try to smile every time I can. That’s the thing. … If I can put a smile on someone’s face, then I’m happy because I did my job. Life’s too short to not be positive. There are a lot of things you can dwell on. I’m not saying I’m oblivious to it. I know it’s there, but I try to not let it get me down. Being happy and being bubbly is just who I am. And I like to laugh.”

As part of the Kuemper staff, Miller said, “Secretaries, janitors, IT (information technology) guys, the cooks. There are a lot of people here. It takes everybody. It takes a family to run a school.”

Miller hopes to have even more reason to smile soon. She plans to use some of her award money — with Kuemper’s approval — to purchase a new work chair. The one she has now rolls stubbornly and doesn’t fit her back well.

Kim and husband Dave have a son, Daniel, a 2018 Kuemper graduate who’s studying music education at Wartburg College in Waverly, and daughter, Amber, a 2019 Kuemper graduate who’s studying middle-school math education at the University of Northern Iowa. Kim and Dave have three grandchildren — Kamdyn, 12, Kerrigan, 9, and Reid, 4 — with Dave’s son Patrick and his wife, Brittany, who live in Breda, although they are planning to move to Harlan.

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