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Douglas County clerk retires after 38 years in government

Susan Sandvick said she liked her role in government, but is looking forward to exploring other interests.

Kendra Schmidt, left, and Kaci Lundgren, right, look over a document with Douglas County Clerk Sue Sandvick in the County Clerk’s Office
Kendra Schmidt, left, and Kaci Lundgren, right, look over a document with Douglas County Clerk Sue Sandvick in the County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Sandvick is retiring after 38 years with the county.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — When Douglas County Clerk Susan Sandvick joined county government in 1985, she was hired as a secretary to the County Board, working with an electric typewriter and a large word processing unit only used for recording the minutes of the County Board and its committees.

Then in 1998, Sandvick was elected county clerk. She took office in 1999.

Now, after 38 years in county government, including 24 years as county clerk, Sandvick attended last County Board meeting Thursday, Jan. 19, on her last day on the job, before entering the next phase of her life: retirement.

"It seems kind of strange, but I like government,” Sandvick said. Still, she said, it will be fun to explore other interests in the next phase of her life.

“It will be nice to get away in the cold months,” Sandvick said. “I really don’t like the cold that much anymore or the snow, but during the nicer months I plan to be here.”

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Douglas County Clerk Sue Sandvick stands outside of the County Clerk’s Office
Douglas County Clerk Sue Sandvick stands outside the County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Over the years, a lot has changed for the office that is responsible for keeping records of the County Board; administering elections; issuing marriage licenses; serving as a passport acceptance agent; maintaining the inventory of county-owned land; and processing land sales.

The office once held a lot more duties, including payroll and accounts payable, but those duties shifted from the clerk’s office, Sandvick said. She said eventually the typewriter and word processing unit were replaced by computers, networks and iPads, which revolutionized the way the County Board accessed information.

Sandvick said she is going to miss the structure of going to work, the interaction with colleagues and knowing what’s going on in county government.

“That will be hard. I’m going to have to start reading the minutes,” Sandvick said.

“Sue was a stickler: If it ain’t on the agenda, it ain’t going to be talked about. Three minutes is three minutes,” said County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert. “She’s a good stickler for the rules, and she balanced my little-looser idea about what should and shouldn’t happen … I always used her as my barometer on whether I was going too far.”

As chairman of the land and development committee, responsible for managing county-owned land not included in the county forest, Supervisor Keith Allen said Sandvick’s knowledge, thoroughness and historic memory of Douglas County government won’t be easy to replace.

“In my mind, she’s kind of an unsung hero,” Allen said. “She’s behind scene a lot. She does a lot of legwork. She does a lot of the paperwork to get things organized. She’s great at organizing things and getting things to work.”

Supervisor Sue Hendrickson remembers when she first joined the County Board in 2004 as one of the few women serving at the time.

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“It’s kind of like jumping into a lake when you’re not sure how to swim,” Hendrickson said. Eager to a good job in her new role, Hendrickson said she has never forgotten how the clerk’s office, led by Sandvick, provided the answers and support she needed.

Hendrickson said Sandvick was the perfect person to serve as clerk because of her intelligence and attention to detail.

“There’s lots of rules, lots of laws that she had to abide by,” Hendrickson said. “I was always impressed by the work that she does with the town clerks. They’re elected also, at various levels of ability, and she’s so helpful … teaching them what they need to do, helping them with elections.”

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Elections have become more challenging over the last 20 years, Sandvick said. She said since 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the Help American Vote Act, there are more administrative duties that go into an election than there were when she started in the office 38 years ago.

“Sue’s willingness to share her wealth of knowledge to her successor, Kaci Lundgren, speaks volumes of her commitment to Douglas County government,” said Supervisor Alan Jaques, who credit’s Sandvick with giving him the tools he needed to serve on a board that works for the people.

Sandvick recommended Lundgren for the appointment to clerk and said she fully expects Lundgren will do well in the new role.

"She really understands elections,” Sandvick said of Lundgren. “She likes elections and not many people do."

Liebaert said he believes the County Board made a good choice in appointing Lundgren but replacing the knowledge Sandvick has after 38 years with the county is going to be difficult.

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“We’re really going to miss her at the helm,” Hendrickson said of Sandvick. “She has really been a star.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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