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MOUNT VERNON — With Friday her last day as Knox County Clerk of Courts and Saturday her last day supervising the county title office on Sandusky Street — Mary Jo Hawkins reflected on her overall 49 years as a county employee, both the good and the bad.
And, she said happily, it was a career spent with excellent results because of the quality of the people she worked with. Asked what her fondest memories have been, she mentioned two that bookend her Knox County career from its beginning to its end.
Her career began just a few years after she graduated in 1967 from Mount Vernon High School. She and her husband, Rick, were a young married couple who attended the same church as Common Pleas Judge Charles Ayers and had just started their family.
“He called me about being a secretary in common pleas court,” she said. “I told him I couldn’t type but I could ‘peck,’ and said I didn’t have any experience. He said to me, ‘Are you willing to learn?’ And my answer was, ‘Well of course I am.’”
Fast forward 29 years from that secretary’s position, when Hawkins was appointed in August of 1999 to fill the unexpired term of then-Knox County Clerk Nancy Vail. Hawkins excelled in the position but it required her to run for office and then re-election a total of five times, the first in March of 2000.
The most recent fondest memory Hawkins will take with her is becoming a Certified Court Manager through the Ohio Supreme Court. It was a three-year course requiring plenty of perseverance which is why it’s noteworthy, she offered.
Christy Milligan Staton, formerly chief deputy clerk of courts who has worked with Hawkins for 20 years, said it has been a privilege to work with such an empathetic and positive supervisor. Staton, who is awaiting Knox County Republican Central Committee approval as interim county clerk, was sworn in Friday as acting clerk in the common pleas courtroom. Hawkins was there in the front row to support her friend and colleague. Another clerk office worker, Andrea Robinson, was also on hand for the swearing-in ceremony.
“She (Hawkins) has been very pleasant to work with and a good supervisor,” Staton said. “She would do anything to help anybody out.”
Hawkins and Staton shared laughs and smiles together, preparing to enjoy a clerk of courts potluck lunch Friday with food awaiting in the small kitchen area. Food highlights included court employee Jennifer Jerkins’ taco salad.
Robinson shares an office with Staton, who has been training her in bookkeeping.
“So we’ve been anticipating this day for a while,” Hawkins said, offering that continuous training of all clerk office and title office employees, and making sure that training happens, has been an essential part of the clerk’s position.
Asked what daily aspects of the clerk position she has most enjoyed, Hawkins said, “No question, it’s the people I work with. I’m going to miss them all very much.”
Hawkins has also enjoyed helping people with legal difficulties ranging from medical malpractice to divorces to wage garnishments.
“That’s been a big one,” she said, as it has to do with state tax liens filed against those who have not paid their state income taxes. Though she cannot offer them legal advice, and only navigate them through the clerk records process on their issue, she added, “Sometimes they just need to vent even though they’ve probably received notices (of attached liens) before. They just want to be heard.”
Many of Hawkins’ co-workers have heard her words of encouragement and professional support for nearly 50 years. Her co-workers past and present from the clerk’s office, title office, and common pleas court, along with other colleagues across Knox County government, were on hand Thursday for a going away party featuring a chocolate retirement cake. It was held at the county service center.
But Hawkins, a youthful 70, will have a full and active retirement with her husband, Rick, who preceded her in retirement following a career with Columbia Gas as a field technician. The two will be enjoying good times with their daughter and son-in-law, Kelly and Rick Frazee, and their two children, Blake, 12, and Reagan, 13. The Frazees recently moved back to Mount Vernon from Lewis Center and all have been enjoying the summer together. Her grandchildren attend Mount Vernon Middle School.
Asked what the worst part of the job has been, Hawkins emphasized that she has had an overall highly positive experience working for Knox County government. But she expressed some frustration “at all of the changes that come down from the state legislature, which impact every day operations here.”
“And no one in Columbus really knows how we operate every day, yet we have to implement these things regardless,” Hawkins said, adding she will not miss that aspect whatsoever.
One of those forthcoming items will be when county Sheriff’s sale auctions go online in a year or so, she said. That decision to go digital when possible, part of an overall trend, will impact a number of county residents across the spectrum, she said, from those who “flip houses” to the farmer who may wish to bid on his neighbor’s farm in foreclosure.
Hawkins, who is currently a notary public, said that becoming one or maintaining status will soon become a much more onerous process under strict new state rules. Instead of paying $18 to become a notary upon walking into the clerk’s office, with no background check required, the new process will be online and involve a $130 application fee toward a 3-hour course, along with a background check of $60 and recording fee of $15.
Those becoming certified notaries will have to take the course either online or where such courses are offered in classroom settings.
Hawkins said the cost of having documents notarized is sure to rise significantly as a result. Notaries currently charge just $2 or ask for no fee at all to have a document notarized.
She was asked if she plans on maintaining her notary status.
“No, I do not,” she said.