After 29 years with the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Loraine Cruse still surprises people.
Today a friend will escort Cruse to work, riding a Honda Goldwing motorcycle.
Maybe it will be Cruse who is surprised this time.
Cruse retires today after having worked as an assessing clerk for the borough for 29 years, one month and 14 days.
Her multiple faces show her as the grandmotherly type, baking goodies for friends; a hard-headed woman, intent on providing for herself; and an outdoors-loving Alaskan who likes to chop firewood. She has a sarcastic sense of humor, but at the same time she provides a giving hand to those in need.
"We're still trying to figure her out," said Jan Johnson, another borough assessing clerk. According to Cruse, she is just another worker, but others have a different perspective.
"People will only deal with her, they even call her at home," Johnson said. "People are determined she is the only one in the place who knows anything."
Cruse knows plenty about the community.
The job has given her ample opportunity to learn about who owns which homes, when people get married or divorced, who buys a piece of property, and who sells their house. The gist of her job includes processing and filing deed transfers after they have been recorded.
And this means much of the time she is working with the public, answering questions and pointing people in the right direction.
"She is a library of information for the community," said Joe Rogers, who, as owner and president of Southcentral Title Agency, has worked closely with Cruse.
It is not only her knowledge about such things as deed transfers, but it is also the trust she has built with the people she works with that makes her unique.
According to Rogers, never in his memory has his company allowed anyone, except Cruse, to finger through its title plant, or its private index of public records concerning real estate. The borough has its own index, but in some situations the borough has misplaced information and has had to cross-reference the data with the title company.
The "reciprocal rapport" she has built with Rogers has been one of trust, he said.
Or, "we didn't want to burn the brownie bridge," he said referring to Cruse bringing cookies, muffins and bread to his office.
Contradictory to her muffin-making, some have nicknamed her "grizz," with her personality traits like a grizzly bear. She is forward and lets people know what is on her mind.
"Either you like me or you don't," Cruse said.
One example of her up-front attitude was described by Johnson. In the past, people have come into the borough office and Cruse has determined they were in need of a bath; they may or may not have appreciated her candor when she handed them a bar of soap.
She didn't begin a career for the borough because of an avid interest in politics, but started work because she is an "independent single woman" and her "own provider."
"I make for myself -- my mother said work hard and it will pay, that's the long and short of it," Cruse said.
In 1974 she built her home in Soldotna.
"She did much of the work herself. Loraine does woodworking, carving, as a hobby," said Frances Brymer, the first borough clerk hired in 1964, who worked with Cruse until 1984.
Cruse's reason for moving north from California in 1967 was simple: She likes the cold.
Although much of her time has been spent with her job at the borough, she also has devoted herself to seniors in need of help. She enjoys taking people places, mowing their lawns, washing their cars and even cutting firewood for them.
She has worked under four different mayors in her 29 years at the borough.
"It has changed tremendously," she said.
She has seen a steady growth on the peninsula since she arrived, and that growth has meant an increase in Cruse's volume of work.
"With more people, there is more to process," she said.
Another change has been the rapid growth of computer technology. "It is not my forte. I'd rather be outside," Cruse said. "I do the best I can with the tools I have."
As Cruse wants to extend her thanks and gratitude for her job with the borough, people of the community can show their appreciation for her long-time commitment at a retirement potluck, to be held from noon to 2 p.m. today at the Borough Building.
For her final meal she requested a "weenie roast" in the parking lot. Borough Mayor Dale Bagley will do the honors and roast the hot dogs.
Now, she has time to "enjoy life," Cruse said. She plans on traveling to visit friends and family in Nova Scotia, Canada, California, Arizona and Missouri. After her travels, she will return home to Alaska.
"It's going to be a way different office atmosphere," said Johnson, reflecting on Cruse's retirement.
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