Administrative Professionals Day celebrates 'mission control' of offices

Nate Legue

The first person kids see when they arrive at Circles of Learning preschool and day care is Cheryl Keller.

Two hundred twenty-six children are enrolled at the center, and Keller takes their applications, tracks their attendance, files for their state child care payments, nurses them when they’re sick and lends a hand in their classes. She also stocks the office supplies, answers the phones, inputs information into computer software and fixes the copier when it jams.

Keller is the day care center’s administrative assistant, a job once known as secretary that now encompasses dozens of office functions in every workplace. Today is Administrative Professionals Day, the day harried bosses everywhere remember that person who keeps the office running smoothly.

“In our environment, (Keller) is interrupted all day long by parents, by teachers, by children,” said her boss, director Jacque Ruch. “All day long, people are coming by. And she has all these reports to do, these huge reports on top of everything else. It is amazing to me. ... When I fill in for her one day, I just can’t believe all she does. I’m like, please let her be back from vacation.”

The day was started in 1952 by a public relations firm working with what is now known as the International Association of Administrative Professionals in an effort to encourage more people to enter the administrative field by highlighting its importance.

The job never was more important at Weyerhaeuser, a corrugated cardboard plant on in Rockford, than the day an OSHA inspector showed up unannounced and wanted to see reams of compliance documents.

Administrative assistant Monica Konitski was instrumental in finding all the necessary paperwork, production manager Derek Mangseth said.

“I’ve been in the business 15 years, and that’s the first time it’s happened to me,” Mangseth said. “They don’t do that very often. ... For the next hour or two, we were jumping through hoops, digging through files and running around.”

Like most administrative professionals, Konitski’s job is a lot more than just answering phones and managing bosses’ schedules. She juggles dozens of tasks and relishes the challenge that provides.

But when business got tough two years ago, the company looked at shrinking its payroll. Konitski’s position was considered for cuts. So she was asked to write up a list of her job responsibilities.

“She start typing up the list and it was 80 items of things that you would never ever think, ‘Wait a minute how does that get done?’” Mangseth said. “I mean, it was things like she takes the receipts from the vending machines, empties out the suggestion box, changes the voice mail code. If she were to stop doing those things, this place would fall apart. We said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t live without her.’”

The administrative role in the office has changed dramatically since the holiday was created. Advances in technology have been a mixed blessing for job descriptions. While the secretary of the ‘50s might have spent all day typing carbon-copy letters or filing documents, computers, copiers and fax machines have drastically reduced the time needed to do tasks. But as administrative duties became easier to complete, their number proliferated.

Now, administrative assistants manage schedules, sometimes for multiple bosses, organize departmental meetings, handle bookkeeping and even manage projects. Assistants also are often the go-to person for directions on tasks or ad-hoc software training.

“We call them mission control because they become the central communicator and link to so many other parts of the organization,” said Andrea Iadanza, director of seminar operations for international training group American Management Association.

While administrative duties require assistants to complete dozens of tasks every day, knowing how to deal with people is the most important job skill, Keller said.

“You have to have the relationship with the staff and with the bosses and in this type of work, and the parents and the children,” Keller said. “You just have to kind of know the connections between them all.”

Nate Legue can be reached at (815) 987-1346 or

By the numbers

4.2 million: Number of administrative assistants and secretaries employed in the United States in 2006.

362,000: Expected number of new administrative assistant and secretarial positions to be added in the U.S. between 2006 and 2016, representing growth of 8.5 percent.

17 percent: Expected growth in the number of medical secretaries, from 408,000 to 477,000, between 2006 and 2016.

$27,450: Median annual earnings for all administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive secretaries.

$38,190: Median annual earnings for legal secretaries, the highest paid administrative sector.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor