By Karen D. Lorentz
Okemo’s longest continuing employee, Executive Secretary and Administrative Office Manager Joyce Washburn, retired on Aug. 31 after 49 seasons.
During that time, Washburn “has been one of the strongest contributors to the success of Okemo Mountain Resort,” stated Vice-President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt, who noted her “legacy of hard work, dependability, and teamwork.”
“As the ‘Face of Okemo’ for countless employees and Okemo skiers over the years, Joyce has positively impacted generations of skiing families. Her smile, laugh, energy, and can-do attitude will be missed by everyone,” commented Tim and Diane Mueller, Okemo’s president and vice president respectively for 36 years.
Washburn quite possibly holds the longevity record for a female ski-area employee. (Many women have hit over 40 seasons and several 45 years – two men are closing in on 60 years at Smuggler’s Notch.) Although the variety of work contributed to her job satisfaction, Washburn said working “in a family-oriented environment” was key to her enjoyment and longevity at Okemo.
“I really like the people and my jobs,” she said. That included coming in contact “with all the staff who get their season passes at the office and working with all the departments at the area in one way or another.”
Washburn started work at Okemo “in ticket sales on a very part-time as needed basis in Dec. 1969,” she said. As a young mother, she moved to the nursery where she could fit her work hours around her children and even take them to work with her.
Two years of working at the ski school desk followed; then she got her real estate license and sold Okemo Village condos and mountain chalets. At the same time, she was helping out in the office.
In 1982 – the year the Muellers purchased the ski area – Washburn joined Okemo’s new lodging service. In 1984 she became office manager at the administrative offices. Duties included answering phones, handling two-way-radio communications, processing employee season passes, greeting the public, and performing executive secretarial duties for the Muellers and general manager. One or two assistants helped her depending on the time of year, and she was widely regarded as the glue at “Okemo Central” who kept everybody in touch and managers on schedule.
As a calm, cool, and helpful communications link, she also kept track of “inside office staff” and thrived on taking care of the big, extended Okemo family, finding her busy workplace “never boring.”
“The office was a fun place to work. We could give and take a joke. No one was immune, not even Tim and Diane (whose self-appointed title is Director of Stuff.) They were right there giving and taking jokes. I even let Bruce Schmidt think that he was my boss, although everyone knew differently,” Washburn joked, acknowledging she had acquiesced to the interview because Schmidt had asked her to!
“We had luncheons where everyone contributed, and we put on birthday and Christmas parties. I have kind of retired before, but there is a backstory to this. Before Okemo was open in the summer, I used to order lunches for people in the office. So when Diane suggested a retirement luncheon for me, I was a bit surprised. For years we had ‘Joyce’s Annual Retirement Party,’ an office potluck in celebration of me not having to order lunch because summer was over and ski season culinary options were now available. We have always made our time together fun,” Washburn added, relishing the sense of humor many brought to the workplace.
The ‘sense of family’ was important and personal, too. Son Scott worked in lift maintenance for many years and now is the chief mechanic; daughter Joelle got her first job at Okemo as a teenager; and grandson Jacob and granddaughter Beka got their first jobs as junior instructors at the ski area. “Okemo offers great job opportunities for the young people in Ludlow,” Washburn observed.
Asked about the changes she has seen in office work, Washburn exclaimed: “Voicemail is wonderful!” She saw the advent of computers, Internet, automated season pass production, and a complex phone system that “took some getting used to.”
Washburn added that when the Muellers arrived there were “about 20 full-time year-round employees. When the resort shut down for a week at the end of ski season, the office door was locked, and there was no one to answer the phone and no way to leave a message. Okemo was totally ‘closed’ back then.”
As for ski industry changes, Washburn, who doesn’t ski or snowboard, has pretty much witnessed all of them – innovations in lifts, trails, snowmaking, instruction, ski equipment, snowboarding, terrain parks, summer recreation, and more. She saw Okemo grow from a small ski area to a major mountain resort.
“The biggest change of all for Okemo was to a year-round destination resort with the addition of Jackson Gore,” she said.
Asked about any unusual experiences, Washburn recalled the Muellers’ first season and a Sunday afternoon when one-by-one all the lifts had gone down and a crowd of skiers had gathered at the office. “They were chanting, ‘We want Mueller, we want Mueller.’ Diane had stayed home that Sunday and when she called in to see how things were going, I told her that a police officer was keeping me company!” (With a brownout in Ludlow, Tim Mueller was up on the mountain trying to get the lifts restarted).
As for retirement plans, Washburn said she has “no immediate plans.”
She “will wait to see how my new changed life works out. I will always remember and miss all the good friends I have made here. The administration office is a very special place, and even though we worked hard, we had a lot of fun,” she said.