Lutherans in Minnesota

Because vocation trumps vacation

Sharon Hendrickon shares time with one of her sons and daughters-in-law during a November retirement party thrown in her honor by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota for her 50 years of employment. Photo provided by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Sharon Hendrickon shares time with one of her sons and daughters-in-law during a November retirement party thrown in her honor by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota for her 50 years of employment. Photo provided by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

College guidance counselors now tell their soon-to-be-graduating students to build skills that allow for job mobility because they likely will work for a dozen or more companies in their work lifetime. Sharon Hendrickson might have a different perspective. She recently retired after 50 years working at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS), the only off-farm job she held in her life.

She credits some of what she calls “stick-to-it-iveness” to her rural upbringing, of course. “Growing up in Lake Lillian [Minnesota], I learned farming community values,” she told Metro Lutheran. “We had a great deal of responsibility and worked with our parents.” She remembered her father telling her, “If you see something that needs to be done, just do it.”

“That’s the way I tried to be around the LSS office,” she said. And she must have done it well, because she served under four presidents/CEOs — Dr. Luthard O. Gjerde, James Raun, Mark Peterson, and, most recently, Jodi Harpstead.

Some of her longevity there may rise from her appreciation of the position she was in, working in the clinical unit of LSS. She explained that she was very lucky to have been able to meet and work with — as colleagues, clients, or clinicians — so many people providing such an important service.

Hendrickson’s supervisor, Debra Martin-Schloer, the LSS Clinical Director, said, “Sharon chose a vocation, not a job. She understood that her work was not what we do for a living, but what we do with a living.”

Retiring, but still a vocation

Hendrickson’s LSS career started in 1963, just after the Lutheran Welfare Society and the Board of Christian Service merged to become Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. After graduating from high school in southwestern Minnesota, she attended Minnesota School of Business and became certified as a legal secretary.

While waiting to be offered a starting date by a local law firm, she remembered a trip she had taken with her home church youth group. She had visited several sites that had received benevolence support from her congregation — Augsburg College, Deaconess Hospital, and Lutheran Welfare Society. She had been intrigued by the service work of Lutheran Welfare, applied for a job there, and never became a legal secretary.

LSS was Hendrickson’s only employer, she said, because “other workplaces didn’t appeal [to me] because they couldn’t offer as interesting a place to work.” She was most enthusiastic in talking about the diversity of people with whom she had worked. “I gained alot of knowledge about people from my co-workers. Our staff included people from Vietnam, and Hmong people, and, more recently, Somalis,” she said. “And I mostly miss the folks.”

Her husband of 40 years, Carl, retired in August from his job of 45 years. Thus far, Hendrickson said, they haven’t really done too much with retirement. “We always wanted to go to Nashville and Memphis, so we went there for a couple weeks,” she said. “But now, after 50 years, it’s nice to step back and see what kind of volunteer work I can do.”

If LSS gave her a comfy chair as a retirement gift, I doubt it will see much use soon.

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