Workforce Center career was rewarding

Joyce Scharnhorst poses with her plaque from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, recognizing her retirement. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Joyce Scharnhorst poses with her plaque from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, recognizing her retirement.

Dolores woman retires after 38 years

By Rachel Segura

Journal Staff Writer

Where there is an end, there is a beginning.

Joyce Scharnhorst has been with the Southwest Colorado Workforce Center for 38 years. On Oct. 31, she retired from her position as purchasing agent for the Cortez and regional office. She not only took with her a wealth of knowledge, but also a lifetime of remarkable memories.

Scharnhorst has been a Dolores resident since 1953, where she grew up and graduated from Dolores High School in 1961.

On November 19, 1974, she went to work for a friend at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment as an unemployment insurance claims taker. She began as a temporary part-time employee. For eight months she took unemployment claims before becoming certified as a permanent part-time job service center representative. She did not, however, stay on part-time.

In 1975, unemployment was being taken down by insurance claims interviewers with pen and paper. Scharnhorst's responsibility was to write down the claim and prepare the document to be mailed to Denver. Sometimes the center would see 90 people a day, all filing for unemployment, so Scharnhorst found that she was working full-time hours.

Her entire tenure at the workforce center earmarked moments that she has not forgotten.

"In 1982, we got a phone call that they were going to shut down the center in Cortez and move the offices to Durango."

She was offered a job in Durango and a chance to transfer but city and county officials banded together to contact the governor on behalf of the labor department. The state director and the governor both compromised with the city of Cortez by giving them an option: if a free facility could be offered to the labor and employment office, they could remain open.

"The commissioners arranged for us to move into the old Heart to Heart building (where Burger King is now located) until we could move into the annex," she said."

Once in the annex, Scharnhorst began to see more changes. She was promoted to the employment side of the department where she worked in the WIN program within the Social Services offices. In addition to keeping index cards on every person registering with the employment office, they had to enter that data into "dumb" computers.

These computers were bulky and had only minimal office capabilities. They were simply used to keep track of employment traffic and relay that information to the Denver offices. The index cards were backup to the computers which in those days, Scharnhorst said, were not trusted or reliable.

The employment and labor offices stayed in the annex for 17 years. Office operations were continuing to advance and employees were in constant training. They were also about to become a one-stop center for individuals seeking employment, unemployment, job training and more.

In January 2000, they were moved into 417 W. Main Street next to Slavens True Value Hardware and became Southwest Colorado Workforce Center. Housed in the new building, they were divided into regions with offices in Cortez, Durango, Pagosa Springs and satellite offices in Dove Creek and Silverton.

The current location was where computers would become a viable tool for the employment offices. Scharnhorst said from then on, most things were done electronically. And she learned quickly that was a trial and error process.

As Scharnhorst has been with the company and witnessed the inner workings change, she has also seen the tragic losses rapidly occurring over the last few years.

"The last two or three years has been the saddest for me," Scharnhorst said. "The economy is so bad and there are no jobs for anyone and people are losing their houses. It's tough to not be able to help them properly."

Since her starting date in 1974, Scharnhorst said this is the worst and longest bout of unemployment she has seen. Four years ago, Cortez had over 200 jobs relayed to the workforce center. Scharnhorst said now, they are lucky if they even have 100 offers for employment.

Jobs are scarce but her favorite part of the job was the ability to help people. It was difficult for her to see someone come in, frustrated and hopeless. But if she couldn't help that person, she found someone who could.

She has been continually rewarded by her job and she is grateful for everything she learned.

"I miss the people, my co-workers and the ones we helped," she said. "I'm so used to getting up everyday and going to work and seeing them all. Now I don't know what to do."

Scharnhorst said her longstanding career at the workforce center was a great experience. She is glad to know that if she ever needed to go back to work, the skills the job provided will still be there.