Jerry Davich: Do you know a ‘Doris’ in your workplace?
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 8:35PM
Doris Amling, secretary for the Porter County Coroner’s office, has been the glue of that agency for more than a decade. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:58AM
Doris Amling knows where all the bodies are buried, figuratively speaking, yet I’ll bet you’ve never heard of her.
The 48-year-old single mother of three from rural Valparaiso is the long-time secretary for the Porter County Coroner’s Office. It’s located in the basement floor of the county government complex and, unless you have business involving a dead body with questionable causes, it’s unlikely you’ve ever dealt with Amling.
She can be quiet as a shadow, but her fingerprints are everywhere in that office, just like with most every office manager in any agency, business or county government workplace.
“She truly is the glue that holds our office together,” said Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris. “I would be lost without Doris and I hope she realizes that her work is so much appreciated by me and the deputy coroners.”
Amling’s title is “secretary,” an outdated label in these days of so many “administrative assistants,” but she’s so much more. When Harris needs the correct form to fill out, he turns to Amling. Phone calls from shell-shocked families? Amling. Funeral director questions? Amling. Police detective orders? Amling. You get the point.
“She is a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Harris said.
Amling has attended the Indiana State Coroner’s Association training course to become a state-licensed medico-legal death investigator. She also serves as a deputy coroner if needed and, along with her “secretarial” duties, she often transports deceased bodies for forensic autopsies to either South Bend or Indianapolis.
“Sometimes she will return home well after her workday was supposed to end,” Harris explained on her behalf. “Doris is probably the most underfunded secretary in the county when you consider her role in the office.”
Amling has been the only secretary for the coroner’s office since it was relocated in the county complex in downtown Valparaiso. She started there in 2001, working under four coroners since then: Roger Kleist, Vicki Deppe, Robert Schulte and Harris.
The best part of her job is that she’s always learning something new. For instance, every time she attends an autopsy (a graphic and intriguing procedure, I assure you), something new is pointed out, whether it’s a disease process, a weaponry issue, or a police procedure.
“Anything that might come up as it relates to the case at hand is one more piece of knowledge I’ve accumulated,” said Amling, a soft-spoken woman who would rather talk about coroner’s verdicts than herself.
Nominate your ‘Doris’
On any given day, Amling will talk with funeral home employees, hospital staff, medical personnel, police officers, life insurance companies, attorneys and media personnel. Not to mention grieving families.
“Occasionally, when families come into the office and break down after trying so hard to hold on, it is tough to know what to do for them,” she told me. “It is then that I appreciate the support team which accompanied them to this office.”
The downside of the job? Hearing problems from families of the deceased while trying to take care of that person’s personal affairs — bills, loans, bank accounts, insurance policies, you name it.
Also, dealing with people who think they’re interacting with a fictional TV crime show such as “C.S.I.,” famous for getting complex test results back in less than an hour.
“It doesn’t happen as often as it had in the past, when those shows were in their heyday, but some families would cite those shows when complaining about the time it will take to get results back,” Amling said. “Those shows are for entertainment only.”
One of her least favorite duties is preparing the office’s monthly “24/7 on call” schedule for the coroner and his many deputies, which can be a logistical nightmare.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have Doris in the coroner’s office,” Harris said sincerely, unlike some bosses who regurgitate an obligatory line of patronizing praise.
I’m sure everyone knows a “Doris” in their office, right? Yet these unheralded employees rarely receive public recognition for their work, let alone get their name in print for a job well done.
In my job, it’s workers such as Amling who I turn to first when I’m on deadline. They know without hesitation where their boss is, what’s going on, and where to find answers. They also are the ones who fret over taking a day off because it would only double their workload when they return. Sound familiar?
“Doris rarely takes vacation days that she is entitled to,” Harris said, proving my point.
Amling, who has three kids, ages 24, 22 and 17, simply shrugged her shoulders when I asked her about this issue.
“Well, you know county government,” she replied with a nervous laugh, shuffling a stack of legal documents on her desk.
When I explained this column idea to Amling, who I’ve known for years, she hesitated to become its focus, as I expected. She also wasn’t thrilled about me taking her photo. But I want to show readers what the poster child for “unheralded office managers” looks like.
Do you know of someone in your workplace who gets a similar bum rap, yet who toils tirelessly for a daily buck without any fanfare or recognition?
If so, feel free to contact me with nominations for a future “Doris” column and be sure to include all the juicy details and their contact information.
You also can call in your nomination to my “Casual Fridays” radio show today from noon to 1 p.m., at 769-9577, on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.