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“Faithful to Dawson County”: Retiring Dawson Health Department employee celebrated for 37 years of service
Dawson County Health Department Office Manager Janelle Wilson officially retired from her position on Friday, April 30, after 37 years with the department. - photo by Erica Jones

On Friday, April 30, Dawson County Health Department Officer Manager Janelle Wilson officially retired after 37 years of service to the department. 

According to Wilson, who was born and lived her whole life in Dawson county, she first came to the health department in March 1984 when she decided to apply for an open position. 

“It was just a job opening and I applied for it and got it,” Wilson said. “And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with all the people here.”

Wilson said that the job proved to be a great one for her, allowing her to work near the schools her daughter attended and giving her the opportunity to really get to know people in the community. 

“I’ve loved getting to know the different people coming here and watching their children grow, because I’ve known several generations of them,” Wilson said. “I’ve got to meet a lot of people, and get to know so many nice people.”

Over the 37 years she worked with the health department, Wilson said that she’s seen the organization change in many ways and grow into what it is now. 

“We’ve tried to improve the services over the year and more outreach help, trying to help people,” Wilson said. “Just always expanding and evolving.” 

Another part of the job Wilson said she’s loved, was growing close with her coworkers, to the point that they now almost feel like her second family. 

“We’re kind of like a family here, everybody fits in,” Wilson said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with everybody here and the public and the staff; they’re all such nice people.” 

Margaret Gehrtz, who worked with Wilson for about 25 years, said that this family-like relationship is so strong for her and Wilson that they’ve stayed close even after she retired. 

“We’ve gone through a lot of difficult and happy times together,” Gehrtz said. “She’s so quiet and laid-back, and she’s just been a good friend and she was a good coworker.” 

Gehrtz said that she and her friends would always joke that Wilson would never retire, but that Wilson’s 37 years of committed work to the health department have meant a lot to the community.

“We didn’t think she’d ever retire,” Gehrtz said. “She’s just been so faithful to Dawson County and to the health department.” 

Especially in the past year, Wilson’s job has been particularly challenging. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she said that she and her coworkers were faced with a whole new set of circumstances that had never been seen at the health department. 

“The last year has been especially challenging with all the COVID,” Wilson said. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. I just hope things will keep getting better now.” 

Sher Whitmore, who works in one the temporary positions added by the health department during the COVID-19 pandemic, said that despite the unprecedented circumstances Wilson has remained calm and helped the rest of the department’s staff do the same. 

“She’s probably the sweetest person I’ve ever worked for,” Whitmore said. “Even in the chaos it makes people crazy and is very emotional, but she’s always stayed calm and stayed herself in the middle of all of it.” 

This willingness to be available to help in any way she can is a big part of what made Wilson such an asset to the department, according to Wilson’s coworker of 15 years Penny Lunsford. 

“She’s just a positive person, just willing to do what she can to help anybody in the community,” Lunsford said. “She’s just one of the best if not the best.” 

Jennifer Dunn, Wilson’s coworker of seven years, said that not only will Wilson be missed by her fellow coworkers at the health department, but by the community as well. 

“I think a lot of people will be disappointed when they come in and don’t see her smiling face behind her desk,” Dunn said. “Everyone loves Janelle; she knows so much about the community and the people and of course the health department.”

According to Wilson, she fully trusts that the staff that are still working at the health department will be competent to handle the organization after her retirement and she’s confident that a suitable replacement for her job position will be selected. 

Now she’s looking forward to retirement, she said, but she isn’t planning on leaving the county she’s lived in her entire life. 

“I’m going to rest,” Wilson said. “But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve never really wanted to move anywhere else, got a lot of family roots here and got a lot of nice people in this county.”