Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, July 3, 2000

Dorothy Novak retires from HL city hall

By Andrea Vargo

A familiar face in the Howard Lake city hall building will no longer greet residents, because today is the first day of the rest of Dorothy's Novak's life.

Leaving a part of one's life behind and embarking on a new adventure can be difficult, but Dorothy, retired deputy clerk for Howard Lake, is looking forward to the challenge.

It won't be the first time Dorothy has faced a challenge.

Widowed twice, she spends time listening to other women who have recently lost husbands.

They ask her how she got through the grief, and she shares her experiences with them.

A year ago, Dorothy lost her oldest son, Rian, to a car accident. Many people helped her through those tough times.

Has she kept her sense of humor? Yes. Has she kept busy? Yes.

Four years ago, Dorothy decided she wanted to crochet afghans for her grandchildren.

There was one small problem. She didn't know how to crochet. So, she asked Ethlyn Smith to teach her, because she admired Ethlyn's work.

Ethlyn told her, "First you have to get some yarn and a hook."

"What's a hook?" asked Dorothy.

She really didn't know a thing about it and had to learn everything from the beginning, she said.

She works on the afgahns during her lunch hour.

Now, she is working on her eighth afghan. This one is for her one-year old granddaughter, Abby.

Dorothy recalls moving to Howard Lake in 1972. Her husband, Dennis Novak was from Silver Lake, and she said she had always heard you shouldn't live too close to your in-laws.

The decision to settle in Howard Lake may have been a subconscious thought for Dorothy, because she knew Shirley Klammer from Howard Lake.

Originally from Durand, Wisc., Dorothy worked in Minneapolis when she got out of high school and roomed at a Mrs. Jones' Boarding House on Emerson Ave. from 1953 to 1956.

There she met Shirley Klammer and several other girls from Howard Lake.

"It was a big three-story mansion, and no boys were allowed past the first floor," she said.

"I remember when Kenneth used to come to pick up Shirley. The lady's grandson would yell at the top of his lungs, 'Shirley, he's heeere.'"

Working in Minneapolis was a challenge for Dorothy. In fact, keeping a job was a challenge.

After a bout of German measles at the age of 14, Dorothy developed epilepsy.

She lied on her job application, and when she had her first seizure at work, she was fired.

Her boss wanted to know why she hadn't told him.

"Would you have hired me?" she asked.

"No," he said.

Then she went to work for Bituminous Casualty, and it happened there.

She woke up with her head in the lap of one of the secretaries, terrified she would be fired again.

The lady assured her that was not the way their boss worked. She was not fired. In fact, when Dorothy had a seizure at work, someone would drive her home.

"They took very good care of me," Dorothy said.

"I have a very special guardian angel," she added.

One evening, while she was living at the boarding house, it happened to be her turn to go out for ice cream.

The girls took turns walking the two blocks to the store for the treat.

With temperatures in the 35- below-zero range, Dorothy went to the store.

She walked in the door after getting the ice cream and was half way up the stairs, when she fell backwards in a seizure.

Her guardian angel was working overtime. If she had been outside when she had the seizure, she would have frozen to death.

She did get hurt. But that aside, she said the worst part was collecting the money for the ice cream from all the girls.

What is it like to have a seizure? Dorothy tried to explain.

"You are so confused. Your brain waves are just spinning, and you can't make sense of anything," she said.

"You really think you are losing your mind," Dorothy stated.

Having epilepsy was something she was ashamed of, she said.

It wasn't talked about in those days. The condition was kept as secret as possible, she explained.

"My mother was ashamed of me," she said.

"Then, one day, a lady at the other end of town called my mother. She explained that her son also had epilepsy. They talked. My mother felt better. It helped her to know there was someone else," Dorothy said.

Of course, she noted, there was no way to get a driver's license.

"You had to prove you have been free of seizures for a certain number of years before you can get a license," she said.

Dorothy outgrew her epilepsy by 1970. But she still never had a reason to drive. Her kids could do that for her.

Then, when her youngest daughter graduated from high school, she realized the "free ride" was over, and she would have to learn to drive.

"Doug Hall taught me to drive. I figured if he could teach his wife, he could teach me," she laughed.

So, in 1990, she got her license.

"Welton Zander gave me a key chain that said 'you're in the fast lane now,'" she said.


A lot of memories of her time at city hall come to mind for Dorothy.

The saddest moment was when she got the call from the hospital that Al LePage had died.

"He was to be our mayor in the coming election, and he was also one of my closest friends," she said.

Her most enjoyable times were when Fred Nus came in to pay his water bill.

"He always had some crazy stories to share with Gene Gilbert and me," Dorothy said.

One of the most difficult times was when she was still working half days. The city administrator resigned, and Gilbert, city clerk, was on vacation. The mayor and council took turns helping her in the office that week.

Then there is her proudest moment.

The city had sweatshirts printed with a picture of the city hall on the front for the centennial celebration.

The photographer snapped the picture, just as Dorothy was locking up the front door.

She is on the picture of the centennial sweatshirts.

Future plans

Dorothy will travel to Michigan to spend several months with her sister in August.

Then she will venture to Colorado to stay for awhile with her two sons, Tony and Tom.

During the summer, she wants to spend a lot of time with her grandchildren.

Parting words

"Now, Gene and I can have coffee together, instead of one of us having to stay in the office," Dorothy said.

"To Gene, I will my parking space. To Lenny, (daytime police officer), I will my erasers! To Ruthie (liquor store manager), I will any and all pink slips," she said.

"Looking at retirement, I'm going to live by Lowell Schrupp's motto, 'Every day is Saturday!'" she said.

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