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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 21, No. 10, Nov. 15, 2001

On the Job: Emma Jean Mahoney

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Photo by Bill Wiegand
Job Emma Jean Mahoney liked her first job so much she has never left it. On Nov. 13, Mahoney, dubbed "The Database Queen" by her co-workers, celebrated her 40-year anniversary with the university and the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Emma Jean Mahoney liked her first job so much she has never left it. On Nov. 13, Mahoney, dubbed "The Database Queen" by her co-workers, celebrated her 40-year anniversary with the university and the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. Mahoney has spent all 40 years at ILIR and said she has no plans for retiring anytime soon. For at least 30 years of her four decades with the university, Mahoney has made the 80-mile roundtrip commute from Danville each day.

However, Mahoney’s ties with the university extend even further back than her hire date would suggest. As a child, Mahoney attended a program for hearing-impaired children on the UI campus where she underwent speech therapy.

In 1961, Mahoney graduated from Illinois Commercial College, Champaign, with an associate’s degree in general business administration. A former Champaign High School classmate, whose sister worked for ILIR, encouraged her to apply for a job there. Mahoney was hired and began her career processing the mail in the institute’s library. Six months later, she accepted a job in the clerical pool, where she’s been ever since.

Now a secretary III, Mahoney has a variety of responsibilities, including sending out mass mailings and maintaining student and faculty mailboxes at the institute. Mahoney also processes incoming student applications and handles thank-you letters sent to donors. She also provides backup for preparing the institute’s daily news bulletin and posts it on the Web to keep students, alumni and faculty members abreast of events at ILIR.

The Database Queen
However, it was her remarkable mastery of the various databases she maintains that earned her "The Database Queen" moniker. Mahoney manages databases of ILIR faculty and staff members, students, and prospective students and alumni that provide the information for various departmental lists she generates.

Mahoney’s ability to learn new programs as well as the wealth of knowledge she has gained during her 40 years with ILIR have earned her the respect and admiration of her co-workers.

"She’s got so much information in her head," said Glenda Slack, Mahoney’s supervisor. "Nobody’s ever going to be able to replace that. She figures out how to do all the queries when we want a specific thing from the databases. The remarkable part is she knows how to do all those things."

Slack characterized Mahoney as "a very special work-mate," citing her cooperative spirit and flexibility as well as Mahoney’s willingness to assist others in meeting their deadlines. Mahoney’s thirst to expand her repertoire of computer skills in addition to her willingness to share her expertise with those around her has endeared Mahoney to her co-workers.

Computer work is her favorite aspect of her job, Mahoney said. However, it also presents her with her greatest challenges when she must figure out how to accomplish a task she has never done before.

Mahoney acquired her first electric typewriter when a co-worker, frustrated with the unfamiliar technology, offered to swap her electric typewriter for Mahoney’s manual typewriter. Mahoney has taken in stride the many advances in technology she has experienced over the years, mastering each new program and upgrade as it came along.

When asked why she has stayed so long in one job, Mahoney’s answer was matter of fact: "I just started working and jumped in and did it. Everybody’s nice to me," she said. The benefits were an incentive too, she added.

In honor of her 40-year anniversary at ILIR, Mahoney’s co-workers hosted a luncheon with all her favorites gracing the menu: chicken, potatoes, peas, rolls and apple pie. A number of former ILIR staff members and Mahoney’s sister, Mary Robeck, joined in honoring her.

Family and fun
Off the job, Mahoney enjoys bowling and has a 145 average. In 1986, she and her teammates went to Las Vegas to play in a national women’s tournament.

Mahoney also indulges her sporting spirit by playing bingo and wagering on horse races at the Danville off-track betting parlor.
Mahoney enjoys traveling, especially long, leisurely trips to visit her two nieces and four nephews who are scattered throughout the states. Last summer, Mahoney drove to Albuquerque, N.M., to visit a nephew and his newborn triplets; she has also driven to Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan.

However, nowadays Mahoney said she has little time for bowling or other pursuits because she shares caregiving duties for her 93-year-old mother. Mahoney’s retired sister cares for their mother during the day and Mahoney takes over in the evenings, doing the cooking and the housework.

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