Oeding retiring from ‘fluke’ that became career

Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Donna Oeding is retiring after working more than 40 years for the health department. Oeding, left, talks on Tuesday morning with Jo Ann Spaulding, who will become the new administrative director on Nov. 1, about the different responsibilities of the health department. "This has been my life," Oeding said of her job. "I have been here ever since I graduated." Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald


JASPER — Donna (Krodel) Oeding got into public and environmental health by chance.

“It was a fluke, actually,” she said.

That fluke has led to a 40-year career with the Dubois County Health Department. Donna will retire from her position as administrative director of the department on Oct. 31.

“I didn’t go for what [career] I had originally set out to, but look at what has happened because of that,” she said. “Now if this isn’t a God story as to how life leads you where it’s supposed to, I don’t know what is.”

Donna graduated from Jasper High School in 1974 and went on to Indiana University with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. But with a 3.4 grade point average, she was not accepted into the school’s physical therapy program when she applied after her sophomore year.

“I was devastated, didn’t know what in the world I was going to do,” she recalled.

Soon after, Donna got a letter in the mail about the IU School of Medicine’s environmental health program. “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I threw it on the counter and was about to throw it in the wastebasket,” she said. “My dad, who was vice president of one of the factories here, said, ‘You need to think about doing this.’”
This was 1976, when the Clean Air and Clean Water acts had been recently formed.

“‘We are having to look at all these new regulations,’” he told her. “‘My guess is that the environment is going to be the big field for a long time in the future.’ That was my reason for going into environmental health,” Donna said. “It was because of my dad.”

She graduated from the IU School of Medicine in 1978 with a degree in environmental health science. The day after her graduation, she started working at the Dubois County Health Department as an environmental health specialist. She stayed in that position until she was appointed administrative director in 2001.

A lot has happened in the 40 years she has been with the department. She has seen changes in food laws and air quality rules. The department has handled rabies breakouts, asbestos issues, foodborne illness issues and even 2016’s avian influenza outbreak, among other things.

Donna was involved in the many sewer expansions that happened in the 1980s and 1990s stemming from a new requirement that houses connect to the sewer system if they were within 200 feet of a sewer line. “That was a big deal,” Donna said. “Many people fought it. They had a septic system and didn’t understand why they had to connect.”

Public meetings were held in areas that had to adhere to the requirement. She remembered one meeting held at a local church. “There was some colorful language used at that meeting,” Donna recalled. “We learned our lesson after that: no more public meetings at a church.”

Things have changed in-house as well, with data collecting and reporting to the state, and budget issues that have required some positions to be eliminated. Despite all that, the department expanded from three people when Donna started, to the 13 full-time people who work there now.

“I loved this job,” she said. “I never knew what tomorrow would bring. And you were forced to think outside of the box.”

Donna knows that it was always God’s plan for her to stay in Dubois County. By the time she was a senior in college, she was dating a guy from Purdue University and was planning to move to the East Coast, because he was working in New Jersey.

“I figured I’d take this job (with the health department) to get started,” Donna said. “I met Mike through this job.”

That would be her future husband, Mike Oeding, who worked for the City of Jasper’s park and recreation department. He was responsible for the city pool, which Donna inspected to make sure it had proper water samples. The couple got married in 1979 and had two children: Katie Hopf and Andy.

“Had I gone out east, I would have never met Mike, which led me to stay here,” Donna said. “God does take you where you are supposed to go.”

Mike’s passing in 2015 is part of the reason Donna decided to retire. While she has no specific plans for retirement, she does plan to visit her two grandchildren, who live in Minnesota.

The other reason is that “it’s time,” she said.

“It’s time for new people to come in with new ideas,” Donna said. “And I wish them all the best of luck.”

The new administrative director, Jo Ann Spaulding, has been shadowing Donna since early October, and will fully take the reins of the job on Nov. 1.

Donna is grateful for having a long career in a department that has impacted her community. “We have so many community partners that work together,” she said. “We take that for granted here, that we know of others with different specialties that will step up and help. We are lucky to have that in Dubois County.”

She will also miss her coworkers. “We are a team here,” Donna said. “This is my family. I will miss them a lot.”

An open house for Donna will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the health department, 1187 S. St. Charles St., Jasper. The public is invited to attend.

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