Huber on the job 47 years

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County > Information management employee is shooting for 50 years

By Arin McKenna

For someone who says she does not like change, Shirley Huber, office specialist for the Information Management Department, has seen more than her share of it in her 47 years with Los Alamos County.

“I started November 15, 1965,” Huber says without hesitation.

Huber’s first position was as a clerk typist in the finance department. That changed when the county decided to start its own IBM section, the forerunner of today’s IM Department.

When some of the staff went to Zia Company to see the new equipment, Huber began playing with the keypunch machines. That caught the attention of Merle Pawley, who contacted Huber’s supervisor. Huber was trained on keypunch and verifier machines and became one member of the three-person staff in the new IBM section.

Keypunch machines were a critical component in those days. The machines precisely punched holes into punch cards based on what the operator entered. Those cards contained the data the computers processed. Verifiers were used to verify that the correct information was entered on the punched cards.

Needless to say, a lot could go wrong with that system.

“You’d miss a sort on the sorter and you’d have to start all over again,” Huber said. “That was a pain if you missed a sort or dumped the tray or got a jam and had to take it out. What we used to do…wow.”

Dropping a tray could mean resorting hundreds of cards.

Huber’s duties included just about anything that required data entry: calculating the county’s payroll, reports on warehouse issues, printing tax assessments. The department also handled the computing needs for Los Alamos Public Schools, including report cards, transcripts and payroll.

Huber also ran the sorters, reproducers and burster (a machine that separates continues sheets of paper into individual sheets).

With the old reproduction devices it was not a simple matter of entering the number of copies required. Items such as tax assessments and monthly reports were printed using up to six-part carbon paper. A decollator then separated the parts of multipart computer printout and the carbon paper.

“We had to take the carbon out by hand, because at that time there was no carbonless paper. And we had carbon from one end to the other and all over us. That was a mess. It was fine for me, because I’m left-handed. I could pull real good,” Huber said. When asked if they ruined their clothes with that chore, Huber replied, “Not too often.”

The burster had to be monitored so the paper did not jam and to make sure the separated sheets stacked properly.

Although Huber appreciates many of the improvements in the equipment she has used over the years, such as software programs that calculate such things as payroll, she says she rarely gets excited over new gadgets or an upgrade.

“I don’t like change much. You do something one way, that’s the way I like to do it,” Huber said. “But you have to change with the time.”

Today Huber is still in charge of payroll for the IM department and one other department. She handles purchase requisitions and other purchasing and warehouse needs and updates IM’s budget every month.
When asked what she likes best about her work, she replies,

“A lot of it’s the people. And I love to do payroll. I don’t know why, I just do. I was kind of pushed out of shape when they said everybody’s going to enter their own now. But you get used to it.”

Huber has also had several changes in scenery during her time with the county.

The IBM section was first set up in the basement of the building that used to stand where the justice center is now. The basement location made it one of Huber’s least favorite environments.

The next location was in the courthouse, with offices facing the pond.

But the next move was Huber’s favorite.

“I liked the old municipal building the best,” Huber said. “I used to walk around the pond twice a day. It was close to my bank, close to the post office. Now the farmers’ market is away from us. I usually bought plants and stuff there. I wish they’d built it back over there.”

When the old municipal building was torn down, Huber was back in the basement at Mesa Public Library. She was not happy being underground again, “but you got to learn to live with it.”

Huber is now in the new IM offices at the municipal building. Someone else is now at the front desk, and she misses the interaction she used to have there.

Huber volunteers on the employee fund committee, which organizes the annual picnic, adopts families at Christmas and puts on the Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair. Huber is in charge of the arts and crafts fair, and also spends all year knitting items to sell.

Huber is not one of those people who looks forward to retirement, and she declined to state her age when asked.

“One of these days I’ll retire. I’d like to reach 50 years, but I don’t know if I will or not. It depends on me, depends on the department,” Huber said. “I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m going to go nuts. Sometimes I can go crazy on a weekend.”

With the rapidly changing technology environment, one can only wonder what other changes Huber may see before that happens.