Sheryl Ballendine: 35 years with the Town of Battleford

Sheryl Ballendine has retired to a home at the lake, but she's not one to sit still.

"You'll see me around. I'm not going to become a hermit," she told fellow co-workers at the 2015 Town of Battleford Christmas party.

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Ballendine retired Dec. 31 as the administrator of the Town of Battleford after 35 years at Town Hall.

"I started in 1981 as receptionist, worked in the receptionist position and accounting clerk position until 1985, then became the assistant. In 1993 I was appointed administrator," she explains.

She took over from Gary Gelech, who had been the administrator since 1978.

She studied for her credentials in local government administration by correspondence through the University of Regina.

Ballendine has worked with five mayors — Alex Dillabough, Gary McArthur, Gail Sack, Chris Odishaw and current mayor Derek Mahon. As an administrator, she has worked with 19 different councillors.

Despite working in a position that requires one to be on top of changes in rules, regulations and circumstances, Ballendine describes herself as "old school."

That's one of the reasons she has retired from her position as administrator at only 54.

"I think this position should live in the community. It only makes sense to me," she says.

She and her husband Tyler, who works for Viterra, moved to a new house they had built on Jackfish Lake in November of 2013. Prior to that, Ballendine had lived nowhere but Battleford. The daughter of Margaret and the now late John McLean, Ballendine grew up there and married a member of a long-time Battleford family.

She and Tyler have two children, son Colby of Saskatoon, who married Stephanie Gryba, and daughter Courtney, who lives in Lloydminster.

She's happy they are not too far away.

"An hour one way or another, except I live at the lake now," she says.

Over a lifetime, Ballendine has seen many changes to the town of Battleford. Some occurred before she began working at Town Hall and some after, and she says over the years they've somewhat blurred together because she'd always been in Battleford.

Her first work experience was at the age of 15, working part-time at Sherwood Grocery, which has since changed hands numerous times and is now known as 29th Street Market. She also worked at Battleford Aquarium and Pet Supply, which no longer exists.

Ballendine says, "back in the day" Battleford had a busy main street. There were more businesses and more buildings. She looks back to a time when Gary McArthur had his garage where a small park is now, and Lyle Trost had a grocery store next door. Over the years there was also a hardware store, a meat market, a sporting goods store, autobody shop, a pool hall, a pet store, a Chinese restaurant, a video store, a real estate office and a liquor store, among others.

Not to take away from the main street of today, she says, but "our main street was quite busy."

Growth has taken place elsewhere, however, in the more recent trend of business no longer being centralized downtown. The industrial area has expanded and the commercial area across Highway 4 to the west has become vitalized, resulting in a rebuilding of the highway with the additional of signalled intersections.

"Who would ever have thought we would have traffic lights in the town of Battleford, or our own Tim Hortons," she laughs.

She says there are about a thousand more people residing in Battleford since she started working at Town Hall.

"When I started working here, 18th Street was the last street," says Ballendine. "Riverbend was here, but it wasn't as built up as it is now."

Residential building boomed in recent years, with building permits hitting a record in 2014 with 24 permits issued for new homes worth a total of $13.5 million.

"When I used to budget years ago for lot sales, I used to go out and say to the [staff], 'We're going to go for five this year. Holy mackerel! These last few years have been just unbelievable, and it's still happening."

She says, "From 2007 to 2010, it was just a whirlwind of development here. I was totally exhausted, but we managed to pull through and I think we have some nice subdivisions and developments that the town should be pretty proud of."

A growing population also resulted in one of the highlights Ballendine looks back on. In 2013, the Town of Battleford received word it was approved for a $3.18 million grant to help pay for a $4.77 million water treatment plant expansion. The development of residential subdivisions had reached a point where the Ministry of the Environment had said "no more" until the capacity of the water treatment system was upgraded. Ballendine says as far as she knows, the Town had never applied for such a large grant, let alone received approval.

"I was pretty happy we managed to get that funding," says Ballendine.

While the number of residents has gone up, the number of staff employed by the town has remained similar, she says. Overall, with the volunteer firefighters, and minus the summer staff, there are about 50 employees.

The number of office staff has remained the same at five, although she has had about 25 changes in staff in the office since she started.

"Noreen [Hoffart] is my only constant since 1989," she smiles. Hoffart is the Town of Battleford's confidential secretary.

Throughout the various departments, there have probably been more than 100 staff changes, says Ballendine.

"I think I stopped counting after a while," she laughs.

There have been changes in technology, of course.

"In 1985, we went from the manual system to computers. That was kind of scary, because it was, 'where did it all go?' You just hit the button and hope it's all there," she laughs.

Procedures have changed as well.

"I remember balancing the general ledger, which was about this thick," she says, holding up her hands about 12 inches apart. "We had to total every page, and you'd get all the way through and it would be out three cents."

Then they had to go back until they found those three cents.

"I always wanted to be out a lot because then you knew you missed a couple of pages," she laughs.

That's all changed now,

"When I first started dealing with the auditors it was to the penny … if you were out a cent, you looked for it. Now they have what they call materiality. There is so much you can be out and they won't be searching very hard for it."

She laughs, "I'm still kind of old school, because I still think everything should balance. It should still work, it doesn't matter."

Other changes she has seen include the land titles system changing from hardcopy to electronic.

"That all happened in 2000.”

She also worked with the government changing over land descriptions from metes and bounds to lots and blocks.

"That was a job in itself, and I enjoyed that kind of stuff."

Ballendine says that kind of work appealed to her "compulsion" to keep things organized.

"You have to be organized," she says. "You do, because it's one of those jobs that changes. It can change every minute, probably every hour. You can be working on something totally different, and something else comes up. It's like [Mayor] Derek [Mahon] says, you never know what's on the other end of the phone or who's going to walk in the door, so you have to be ready."

Now that she's retired, Ballendine still feels she has to be ready for anything, because she doesn't really know what to expect from retirement – except that she can't do nothing.

"I have been working for 40 years … so it is going to be different. I don't know how people do it," she laughs. "And it's not that I don't want to work, I like working. I would just maybe like to do something that is less demanding."

As far as life at the lake goes, Ballendine says she enjoys walking, and she likes photography.

"I like to dabble in a bit of photography, not that I'm really good at it or anything, but I like to take pictures," she says. "Most of the pictures in my house are pictures I've taken."

In the summer, she enjoys the lake, even though she doesn't swim.

"I swim like a rock, but I like to be in the boat and I have a paddle board," she says. "I don't go very deep, but I do like my paddle board."

She likes the sun.

"I'm just more like a girlfriend of mine said, 'I'm solar powered,' and I think I am, too. I need that sun."

While she enjoys the outdoors, she's not a real fan of winter.

"I like this one," she laughs, "and I don't mind snow."

She has a new pair of snowshoes she's looking forward to trying out.

"But the 40 below? My hands and feet are always freezing."

Since moving to the lake, she finds she doesn't go out much to evening activities.

"I enjoyed yoga when I was in town, but I find in winter you leave in the dark and get home in the dark, so you don't go out in the evening."

How will she fill her winter evenings?

"I'm sure I'll get stir crazy," she laughs. "I'm trying to convince myself that I won't."

She has a project in mind.

"I took a lot of pictures of the construction of the house. Maybe I'll put that together and put it into some sort of electronic album," she says. "Some are from my phone, some from my camera, so maybe I'll fill my time with some of that."

But she's not convinced that will keep her busy enough.

"I tend to get really bored, I don't know if that's challenging enough," she laughs. "I enjoy a challenge."

She says that may be a good thing considering the job she had, but, life in general?

"Maybe not," she laughs.

She says she will have to find something for sanity reasons, whether as a volunteer or as an employee.

"I like to be around people."

She also says, "I like to be busy. I don't want to be somewhere sitting around twiddling my thumbs, because then I think I'm wasting time."

But then she adds, "Maybe I shouldn't say that, because maybe you should waste some time. Maybe I haven't wasted enough time."

All she knows is that she's not ready to make any major commitments.

"Not for the first month," she laughs. "I'll give myself a month, if I can last a month. I hope January's nice!

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