Karla Wenger loves to put on her detective hat and solve problems.
For the past 50 years, the administrative assistant in Graduate Studies has put those solution-focused skills to work. By combining her wealth of institutional knowledge with her ability to connect with people, she has served MSUM’s faculty, administrators and students well.
“I feel like I’m good at what I do and that I contribute to the university,” she says. “I’ve been blessed with some nice, wonderful people to work with.”
Wenger retires this summer and when she does, she’ll leave a career that witnessed two institutional name changes, four university presidents, nine bosses and decades of friendships.
She started her journey at MSUM as a student. After graduating high school in 1970, she started taking business education classes at Moorhead State College. She struggled until her advisor suggested she pursue an associate arts degree in secretarial sciences. The advisor also suggested Wenger take civil service exams to become eligible for federal and state jobs.
Two weeks after taking the Minnesota civil service exam, Wenger interviewed for a position at MSUM.
“I was offered the job and didn’t go back to school,” she says. “I started working full time and have loved it ever since.”
Wenger was hired as a clerk stenographer in the library. She took shorthand notes and used a dictaphone to transcribe correspondence for the head librarian. She still remembers the thrill of receiving her first correcting electric typewriter at work.
In the following years, the details of her job changed to adapt to an ever-changing institution. At one point, the names of offices changed so often that Wenger wrote the latest official name of the library’s office on a sticky note and posted it on her phone so she knew how to answer calls.
“I’d be sitting in the same chair at the same desk but the name wasn’t the same,” she says.
Still, her loyalty to MSUM never wavered.
About 20 years ago, she transitioned to what is now Graduate Studies. There she has become the heart and soul of the department, says Lisa Karch, dean of Graduate and Extended Learning.
“Of all the people I’ve worked with, (Wenger’s) one of the hardest working, dedicated, positive, energetic people to be around,” Karch says. “She’s the rock in the foundation of our department.”
The graduate program at MSUM has grown immensely since Wenger started. She answers questions from prospective students and tracks their progress as they complete their graduate programs. She supervises and mentors graduate assistants who work in the office and when they leave, she keeps in touch with them via social media.
Wenger is so tuned in with what’s happening on campus and in the department that she typically completes tasks before Karch identifies them. Wenger shrugs and says that’s her responsibility. As an experienced assistant, she sticks to her philosophy that it’s her job to meet her supervisor more than halfway.
“I really love my job. I love what I do. I love the interactions with faculty, with students,” she says.
Wenger will retire in July. She plans to travel and will spend time with her grandchildren, ages 3 and 10. She wants to return to some favorite hobbies, including needlework like cross-stitching and Scandinavian hardanger.
And she’ll be deeply missed.
“She’s left a huge imprint,” Karch says. “She cares, authentically truly cares for everyone she’s met.”
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