Rhoda Coakley pulls records from a shelf at the County Clerk’s Office, Thursday. Noah Vernau Photo
If you’ve ever looked for something at the Chaves County Clerk’s Office, you might think of Rhoda Coakley in the same light as a treasure hunter. She has served as the County Clerk for more than two decades in her 35 years as a county employee, locating records for people of all trades, for all purposes. There’s usually a hint, there’s always a search, and sometimes, there’s good fortune.
“I really get a big thrill out of running my finger down the books and just looking for the names,” Coakley said of her job. “It is kind of interesting that we can go back and find every document, every receipt by just a few little clues.
“We do a lot of research for people looking for a long-lost relative, and it’s fun to go back into the old days, find their record and bring it to their attention.”
Coakley fondly recalls how a woman who walked in hoping to ascertain the source of a receipt led to a fascinating and fruitful discovery.
“I researched it, I found what he had recorded, and she found that her father had been married before and that she had a brother somewhere,” Coakley said. “So that linked those people together.”
“That’s the most rewarding part (of the job) to me,” she said. “I’m kind of a genealogy buff. I like to look at those old books and see what happened.”
With her retirement on Dec. 31 approaching, Coakley marvels at how much things have changed since she started work for the county as chief deputy in 1979, years before a switch to computers.
“The other day the girls were cleaning out one of the office supply cabinets, and they came across something and said, ‘What is this?’” she said. “It was a typewriter eraser, with an eraser on one end and a brush on the other. Nobody knew what it was but me. I told them to put it back because it’s an antique!”
In the County Clerk’s Office, Coakley does much more than hunt for records, including preparing the budget, issuing marriage licenses, filing probate records, recording real estate records and running elections.
She said of all her office’s tasks, elections present the biggest challenges. “It just takes so many people pulling together to make an election work. And it’s hard to keep the emotions (in check) on election night when all the candidates come together.”
“I don’t think people really understand how tedious it is. A lot of details have to be correct,” she said. “It takes a lot of people and a lot of paperwork — checking and double-checking.”
Coakley said it always helps to keep things light during elections. She’ll often post a cartoon on her door that reads, “They hold elections in November because it’s the best time to pick out a turkey.”
She said that while the challenges of elections are many, playing a role in the voting process is always exciting. “That’s one of the only times that a person can express their opinion about something without someone else telling them what to do. Voting is very personal.”
Coakley said a part of the job she definitely won’t miss in retirement are the County Commission meetings, in which she takes the minutes and keeps records. “(The Commissioners) get to go through the meeting and go home,” Coakley laughed, “but I have to come back to my room and live it again when I write it out!”
Coakley plans to stay busy in retirement, working as a consultant with her husband Tim, who is a mechanical engineer. She said she plans to do consulting work with people in other counties concerning elections. Coakley will also spend time with family, which includes 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Her co-workers have planned a retirement reception for Coakley at the County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday, Dec. 19, from 2 to 4 p.m., with an open invitation to those in the community who know Coakley and would like to wish her well.
Coakley said what she’ll miss most in her retirement from the county is the people, those she works with and those she helps in “solving little problems.”
“It’s bittersweet because these are my babies and this is my life,” she said. “But I’m going to go on to another life.”
In her extra time, Coakley said she’d like to trace the Indian heritage in her family history — a task you would likely guess Coakley is more than comfortable with.
“I’ll know who to go to,” Coakley said with a smile. “I’ll bring them a box of donuts and they’ll let me look through their records. That seems to work here.”