For years, on the first and 15th of every month, Delta County Libraries administrative staff has gathered bills, organized payroll and arranged vouchers to deliver to the home office of bookkeeper Emma Neil. "Inevitably, we could look forward to a phone call a couple hours after we left our bills with Emma," laughs district director Lea Hart. "She always caught our mistakes and set us straight right away."
Now Hart and many other library employees are wishing Neil farewell as she retires from working with Delta County Libraries, easing into retirement by letting go of her biggest client.
Neil has managed the books for the libraries for 23 of the past 31 years. When asked what she loved most about the job, she says, "Most enjoyable was working with the district directors, managers and staff as a team. If my bookkeeping could help make the director a better director, the experience of the longtime directors also made me a better bookkeeper."
Neil's knowledge has not only helped Hart enormously, but she has made things much easier for the new bookkeepers. "Emma has really helped us through the transition to our new bookkeeping team," says Hart, referring to Happy Data Management, LLC, a Paonia-based company run by Erica Howard and Annette Pretorius. Neil has spent several months working with Howard, explaining codes, sharing files and providing the countless bits of detailed information required to manage the books for an organization as large as Delta County Libraries.
Neil explains, "Like any machine with multiple moving parts, the daily operations of the library is far more complex than it appears on the surface. What makes the bookkeeping system work is for the bookkeeper to understand the full spectrum of what happens from beginning to end."
In addition to her clear knowledge of the libraries, Neil is an excellent source of history, with many great stories to share. She describes computers the size of tables that she used in the early '80s, and has an unparalleled mental timeline of Delta County Libraries. "In 1985 the checks were typed on a typewriter and the general ledger was a paper ledger. I converted the books to a computer system later that year."
"Some of our staff members weren't even born when Emma started working with the library district," says Hart. "We owe her for years of outstanding organization and commitment to our libraries. We will not easily forget her contributions, especially on the first and 15th of every month!"
Neil is still bookkeeping for a small group of clients, and finds that the anticipation of retirement is bittersweet. "As I have time to reflect and look back there are so many, many people who influenced my life for good and made me not only a better bookkeeper but also a better person. To all of you and to those that have already passed on, I give my sincere thanks for helping me."
Showing her true devotion to the literary world, Neil asked to share part of a poem entitled "House by the Side of the Road," by Sam Walter Foss, that has influenced her over the years: "Let me live in my house by the side of the road/Where the race of men go by/They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong/Wise, foolish -- so am I./Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat/ Or hurl the cynic's ban?/ Let me live in my house by the side of the road/ And be a friend to man."
Delta's second annual "Kickoff to Christmas" takes place Saturday, Nov. 25. This event is sponsored by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce and First Colorado National Bank.