For the daughter of a United Methodist minister and the granddaughter of United Methodist missionaries to the Belgian Congo, the thought process behind major decisions is rooted in a higher authority.
And so it was for Pat Wielert this summer as she unexpectedly considered retirement, something she had believed would come next year.
“I prayed about it, and asked my sister,” says Wielert, who has worked in the NIU College of Education since January of 1995. “We both believe in God, but I think she has a better connection than I do.”
Wielert’s question to sister Marge explored a deep level of faith.
“ ‘How do you know when your prayer’s been answered? How do you really know?’ I’ve made many decisions over my life that I don’t think have been godly, but he’s helped me get through them in spite of the fact that they were my own decisions,” Wielert says.
“Marge said, ‘You’ll know. You’ll just know. If you’re really sincere about getting an answer, you’ll know,’ ” she adds. “And I got the answer. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but it was an answer – and I knew right then that it was time.”
That time comes Aug. 1 for Wielert, who started her quarter-century career at NIU as a temp with no desire or plan to stay on campus as she continued to “figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Born in Lansing, Mich., she and her family (including her other sister, Carolyn, and brother Tom) lived across the Wolverine State as her father served various churches before moving to Ohio and, finally, to Wisconsin, where she completed middle school and high school.
Her parents had met as students at what then was called Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., where her father was enrolled in the seminary.
Her mother had come home from Africa for school, full of amazing stories about her own parents, who embarked on their missionary work there in the 1920s without knowing the language and becoming the first Caucasian faces people there had ever seen.
Wielert began her own journey in higher education at the University of Dubuque, where she intended to prepare for a career as X-ray technologist.
She met and partied with actor Tony Danza – and she also met her first husband there. “I quit school because I had a baby almost right away,” she says. “I stayed home to raise him while my husband was still in college.”
Following her husband’s 1970 graduation, she moved with him to his native Chicago suburbs.
As she raised her three sons – Matthew, Joshua and Aaron – Wielert worked as a secretary for a local dealer of used cars. She then saw a “Help Wanted” ad in the newspaper that caught her eye, placed by the local Yorkville Community Unit School District 115.
“I applied, got it and was really quite pleased. I hadn’t worked in an office environment,” she says. “I started as the business manager’s secretary and worked my way up. I was there for 10 years.”
Most of Wielert’s time in District 115 was spent as secretary to the superintendent and the Board of Education.
While there from 1981 to 1991, she learned how to process payroll – “Very cool. Our computer took up a whole wall, and our disk drives were the size of a small album” – and made valuable connections.
“I found something that I could do, and I felt I did it well,” she says. “It gave me great self-confidence.”
After leaving to work briefly for a special education cooperative, she received a call from one of the former business managers in District 115 who had taken a similar position at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
Wielert worked at IMSA for three years, helping with grants, equipment purchases and summer camp operations.
Leaving IMSA, and coming to NIU, were not in the plans.
“I had just gotten married and quit my job at IMSA – I don’t know why I did that – and came here. I’ve been here ever since,” she says. “I got hired in the College of Ed, and it’s the only place I’ve been in 25 years. I’ve been in my little office now for 24 years.”
That first “temp” gig was assisting former colleagues Corenna Cummings and Georgia Harris; she also was asked by then-Associate Dean Elliott Lessen to take the minutes at a meeting of the curriculum committee.
When former Dean Alfonso Thurman’s secretary left, Wielert interviewed successfully and found not only her calling but the longest tenure of her 50-year career.
“I care about my bosses, each and every one of them. I don’t want them to ever have anything come out of this office that is not a positive reflection of this office,” she says. “I’ve said all along, ‘If you can’t do your work right, then you’re not really needed,’ so I just try to do things as well as I can and have a positive reflection on the dean’s office – not only in my work but in my attitude as well – and to make people feel welcome.”
Her time at NIU, and away from the job, is also one of service.
At home in Pierce Township, where she lives on a 30-acre farm south of Cortland and Maple Park in rural DeKalb County, she has been elected three times as secretary of the township board.
Public service is a longtime passion: Before leaving Yorkville to move to Hinckley with her second husband, Darrell, Wielert served as an alderman and was entertaining the notion of running for mayor.
“It just kind of fell into my lap,” she says. “In Yorkville, there was a vacancy on the city council for ever and ever and ever. I knew the mayor. I just called him up one day and said, ‘I’ve seen you’ve had this vacancy for months now. I would like to put my name forward.’ He put my name forward, and I filled the vacant seat. Later, I ran and won the election.”
Voters in Pierce Township are likely to see Wielert’s name on the next ballot, she says, unless retirement changes her mind.
For now, though, she has no idea if she and Duck – that’s the name most people call her husband, a retired over-the-road trucker who then worked for AGCO as a service rep– will hit the road for warmer climes during the winter or just travel to see the United States along with friends and family in Arizona, Florida and Ohio.
What retirement definitely will bring is more time with their 12 grandchildren, offspring from Wielert’s three sons and Duck’s son and two daughters.
Two of Wielert’s boys remain nearby: Joshua is a preservationist for the DeKalb County Forest Preserve. Aaron works for Bountiful Blessings Farm, located on part of the family farm and operated by Wielert’s nephew and his wife. Matthew, who formerly operated the House Café in DeKalb, is working in construction in Tennessee.
Otherwise, she just doesn’t have a solid answer for those “wonderful people who are reaching out to me to tell me they’re going to miss me” as they ask about what’s coming next.
“That’s a question people have asked me so many times. I have never known what I want to be when I grow up, and it’s no different now,” she says. “I just turned 70 years old. I don’t feel 70. It shocks me when I look in the mirror sometimes. I look 70, but I don’t feel 70.”
Her glance in the rearview mirror, however, offers a clearer reflection – and, maybe, a little hint about the future.
“What an opportunity I have had to work with some of the greatest educators, and I treasure each and every one of them and the work they have done for the people of NIU,” Wielert says.
“Even though I’m not an educator, I have learned so much from educators, things that I wouldn’t have any idea about had I not been honored to be part of so many discussions with wonderful people who do wonderful things. I’m so intrigued by the things they’ve done and talk about,” she adds. “It’s going to be interesting to find out how I can stay busy and how I can keep my brain and my mind active.”