The Secretary Series: Lori Holmstedt is "The pulse of Paxton"

The Secretary Series: Lori Holmstedt is "The pulse of Paxton"

By Tyler Dahlgren

Lori Holmstedt’s enchiladas are held in high regard.

Paxton Consolidated Schools Principal Sheri Chittenden guesses most families in the community that have ran into distress have received a comforting pan of deliciousness.

“It’s nothing special, it really isn’t,” Holmstedt said. “I give the recipe to anyone who wants it. It’s very easy, quick to make for a school or church potluck, or if someone isn’t feeling well.”

Hopefully, though, they can help make someone’s day just a little bit easier.

That’s the way Holmstedt approaches each day. Kind, welcoming and comforting. And while the enchiladas are famous, the chef is even more so.

“She is the pulse of our community,” Chittenden said about Holmstedt, Paxton’s Administrative Assistant who also pens a community news column for the Keith County News each week. “She also takes in coaches’ children and drives other children home if their parents can’t pick them up after school. Lori is awesome.”

Just look at the overwhelming outpour of support on NPSA’s original Facebook post announcing the first subject of our “Secretary Series”. Nearly 300 likes, 60 comments and 30 shares. For some perspective, there’s only 500 people in Paxton!

Her list of responsibilities varies, not only from day-to-day but from hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. Multitasking is a gift, and Holmstedt feels it’s one she was lucky to receive.

“Having a busy home life and growing up in a bigger family probably helped me learn to multitask,” she said. “Having three sons who were on-the-go and involved in everything definitely helps you learn to multitask, too.”

Every day is different. There’s sick kids, and bumps, bruises and scrapes. There’s phone calls and appointments and permission slips and forgotten sack lunches.

“She is a Powerschool guru and probably has every student’s lunch account number memorized,” Chittenden jokes.

But she’s not really joking. It’s very possible that Holmstedt does. In fact, she could peruse the graduation wall and tell you what each student who has walked the Paxton hallways since she started in 1998 is up to today. It’s a culture she’s proud to be a part of.

“We have an awesome school and it starts with the administration,” Holmstedt said. “We have three wonderful administrators. They’re on the same page and out in the hallways. They can name every student. They attend all the games and events. They know all the students and the staff, and that makes a difference.”

Holmstedt’s job, and the way she does it, is a truly special one, and she genuinely expresses her adoration for the kids and the teachers she interacts with every day. It’s why she’s done the job for 21 years. And it’s why the smile has never left.

“My main focus is to treat the students here at Paxton like I wanted my sons to be treated while they were in school here,” said Holmstedt. “Now I have granddaughters, which is a wonderful thing, and I treat the students how I would want them treated.”

She treats them as if they were her own. Paxton is one big family, and that’s the best Holmstedt can describe the district’s culture. She’s been working with Chittenden, for example, from the start, since the principal was the Spanish teacher.

For Chittenden, working with Holmstedt has been a blessing, and, quite literally, a life-saver.

One morning about four years ago, Chittenden was snacking on almonds when one became lodged in her throat. Wheezing heavily and struggling to breathe, she was in serious distress.

Holmstedt and Chittenden work in close proximity. They always have.

“I recognized it as being a distressful cough, not an ‘I’ve got a cold cough,’” she remembers.

Chittenden couldn’t speak. Holmstedt saw the almond package on her desk, and knew she needed to perform the Heimlich maneuver. She urged Chittenden to stand up. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.

“Especially on someone you know so well and really like,” Holmstedt said. “When it was all over, we were both in tears.”

Holmstedt gets misty-eyed when retelling the story. Throughout our interview, her passion for Paxton Consolidated Schools fills Chittenden’s office, where we sit around the principal’s desk. At this point, it’s almost tangible.

“I am so grateful for her ability to think fast and respond to everyone in need with true compassion,” Chittenden said. “Lori is a true life-saver.”

Holmstedt finds the true reward of her job in the million moments of significance, no matter how small. A hug from an elementary student, for example, is always the best part of her day. When she’s asked to speak at Family Senior Night, she’s honored.

In November, her husband underwent an emergency double bypass heart surgery in Omaha and the support the Homstedts felt from the Paxton community was heartwarming. Text messages, calls, and even hospital visits.

“It really is a family environment,” Holmstedt said.

For more than two decades, Lori has been greeting visitors, students and staff with a welcoming smile, endearing her to everyone that’s had the privilege to visit Paxton Consolidated schools.

She plans to retire in about five years. Plenty of time for more Band-Aids, taxi rides and enchiladas. And after that, something tells me Lori Holmstedt will still be a vibrant part of her community.

“I always hope when I do something for one of the kids, that they remember,” she said before pausing for a brief moment. “Or that it makes their day just a little better.”

Chittenden was right.

She's the pulse of Paxton.