Operations senior secretary Caroll Vandre has been an Omnitrans institution for the past twelve years. This week, she leaves the agency for a well-deserved retirement and will be much missed by all of us who have worked with her.
It’s been a career path she never would have predicted.
After being laid off from her 17 ½ year supervisor position with San Bernardino County due to downsizing, Caroll was concerned she might have problems finding another job because of her age. She was 57 years old and not ready to retire. After almost three months of applying for any secretarial job she could find and getting little feedback, she came across an ad for a senior secretarial position in the Omnitrans Operations department. She applied and was hired.
Although she knew nothing about transit, she was a quick study and applied herself to learning daily procedures and new technologies.
“Technology has changed a lot since I’ve been here,” she points out. “At that time, we used Ellipse for payroll. I had never worked with that system before. Coach operators were still using paper way bills, and every day they would write down their hours. Then we would code them and enter them into the system. That was probably one of the biggest changes, getting rid of way bills. They were time-consuming and a required lot of paperwork!”
I ask Caroll what part of her legacy she’s most proud of.
She considers. “I think customer service is one of my strong points. It’s important for us in this department. When a coach operator comes in and needs help, he needs it right away because he’s on a strict time schedule. Even if you’re involved in something else, that’s okay. You still get up and you help them because it’s their time.”
As if to underscore her statement, a coach operator comes into the office to order a new jacket. Caroll smiles and jumps up to help her. When she comes back, we laugh about the timing of the interruption.
After a moment, she looks thoughtful. “I hope I’ve made a difference to people during my tenure here,” she says softly.
There’s no doubt at all that Caroll has left her mark. She manages each project she takes on so smoothly and with such caring and humor, that it’s easy to forget how much she does behind the scenes to make it happen—especially for annual agency events such as the Bus Roadeo and Transit Appreciation Day (TAD).
“I think you learn that as you go,” she laughs. “When I first started, we had a formal Roadeo banquet that we did with food, dancing and the whole bit. So I had to learn all of that my first year here.”
Caroll has also had the distinction of having three different bosses during her time with Omnitrans: Cindy Peterson and Scott Graham (now CEO), and current Director Diane Caldera.
“You go through a transition with each of them, finding out what they like, what they don’t like and how to deal with them,” explains Caroll. “I was always a little scared of Cindy, but she was the one who hired me. Then Scott came, and of course I had to teach him the ropes for the department because he came from another agency. I’d have to say that Scott was probably the best boss I had because he would come up with challenges for me all the time. It kept my mind going and tested my skills.”
She grins, “He used to come up to me all the time and say ‘Caroll, I need for you to learn how to do this.’ And I would research it or take a couple of classes and learn it. I had to come up with a way to do all the Key Performance Indicator charts he wanted, because I’d never done that before. I also had to learn Vizio so I could create org charts.”
I ask Caroll what she loves best about her work.
“I really love the people I work with,” she says without hesitation. “And I just want to be sure they’re happy, I guess. If it’s within reason, and I can do it for them I will. They’re a fun bunch of people. For my sixtieth birthday I came into work and there was a wheelchair waiting here for me, some denture cream, and a cane.” Caroll laughs. “They had me covered.”
Although Caroll’s plan was to slip quietly away into retirement this week, her co-workers weren’t having any of it. Thinking she was coming in for an exit interview, she was startled to walk into a surprise party led by her boss.
“No way were we letting you out of here without a party,” Diane told her with a hug. “We’ve been planning this for two months and have had a hard time keeping it under wraps. I am truly going to miss you. You helped me so much when I first came in as Interim Director by showing me the ropes. Even though you make it look easy, all of us know how much you do. We all wanted to wish you a happy retirement.”
Although it’s tough to see Caroll go, she has left an indelible mark on Omnitrans. CEO Scott Graham sums it up best.
“Caroll will definitely be missed. She was the ‘go to’ person for many operators, administrative personnel, supervisors, managers, and directors. With her enthusiasm, every Roadeo, employee recognition ceremony, holiday event, and transit appreciation day was not only special, but a success! Without hesitation, I can say that many of the achievements and the positive changes that took place in the Operations Department during Caroll’s tenure is a result of her energy, efforts, long hours, and exceptional work ethic! I wish her the very best. She has left Omnitrans a better place and many of us can credit our own success to the support she has given to each and every one of us here at the agency.”
Juno Kughler Carlson