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Robin Huebner, Published December 14 2013

Robin Huebner Reports: 3 people who switched careers after years of working different jobs

FARGO - A year and a half ago, I embarked on what felt like a major career change.

Though part of my day would still be spent producing and anchoring TV news as I have done for many years, the other would involve writing for the newspaper.

The style of writing was different, to be sure, but it wasn’t nearly the change others have undertaken.

Inside are the stories of three brave souls who’ve changed course later in life – each of them for very different reasons.

Carol Stefonek: From large equipment to small animals

In her previous job, Carol Stefonek handled heavy equipment.

Now she cares for small, furry animals.

In August 2011, the Jamestown, N.D., native and about 1,300 other workers were locked out of their jobs at American Crystal Sugar, after the union rejected a contract offer.

In her 35 years at Crystal’s Moorhead plant, Stefonek held half a dozen jobs.

She was a packaging technician, drove a forklift and was the first female payloader operator.

Her last job was running the storeroom shipping and receiving department, having responsibility for all of the equipment that came in and went out.

“Nuts, bolts, everything, including the big motors, the pumps,” said Stefonek.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said, adding “I took a lot of pride in the work that I did – my whole department did.”

Not long after, she went through another sort of “lockout” at a nonprofit where she served as a volunteer.

Minn-Kota PAAWS chose to close its shelter for abandoned cats, and concentrate solely on its low-cost spay-and-neuter program.

Stefonek and several friends who ran the shelter decided to look for their own space for abandoned cats.

The timing, she said, couldn’t have been better.

“Don’t you think it’s ironic that I got locked out at just exactly the same time I was needed to help find a property?” Stefonek wondered.

They found that space on Ninth Street South in Fargo.

In December 2011, Stefonek became one of the founders of Cats Cradle Shelter, a facility that rescues cats and kittens from local pounds and shelters or fosters them until they can be adopted.

Executive Director Gail Adams Ventzke is the only paid employee. An army of volunteers, including Stefonek, are unpaid.

As Stefonek stops in on one of the cat “colonies” at the shelter, her attention is drawn to PomPom, a smoky silver long-haired cat, bred to have a stubby tail.

“She wags it like a dog,” Stefonek said. “Isn’t that just a hoot?”

Always an animal lover, Stefonek didn’t have cats in the house growing up because her mother didn’t like them.

“But I saw my grandma once a year, and I loved her cats,” she said.

While Stefonek worked an eight-hour shift at American Crystal, she says it’s more like “24/7” at the shelter.

Stefonek does all of the accounting work, picks up cats from local pounds and helps out at adoption events on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

“I’m rarely home before 8 p.m.,” she said.

The shelter’s aim is finding homes for virtually every cat that comes through the door.

Stefonek said the average number of adoptable cats euthanized annually in the F-M metro area used to be between 400 and 700.

“Last year, it was two, and zero so far this year,” she said.

The work gives her a sense of peace.

“It helps make up for the other people who aren’t so compassionate,” she said.

Last April, Stefonek turned 60, and a month later, she was able to retire from her former job.

Meanwhile, her unpaid gig provides benefits that money can’t buy.

“My house is paid for; I drive an old truck,” Stefonek said. “I’ve never cared about material things.”

“If I die today, it’s OK. I feel I’ve done enough to help God’s creatures – the four-legged ones, anyway,” she said.

Reid Lauderman: From computers to theology

A Pennsylvania native who’s spent the past three years in North Dakota went from dealing in computer algorithms to quoting Bible Scripture.

Sixty-year-old Reid Lauderman was born and raised in Lancaster, Pa.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in math education and then a master’s in religion, but his first long career stint was teaching high school math, computer science and physics.

Almost 15 years in, he had a chance to use the same skills in private industry, and began a series of computer networking jobs in central Pennsylvania.

In his last such job, Lauderman was senior network engineer at Hajoca, a large plumbing firm.

Earning about $100,000 a year, he was in charge of all data communications between the company’s headquarters and its stores.

“I was doing very well and being well compensated for the work I was doing,” said Lauderman.

But his job stress rose as the business so closely tied to home building started to suffer in the economic downturn.

Lauderman felt a career change coming – one that had been floating around in his head for a long time.

“I have felt a call to ministry since my youth,” he said.

With kids no longer at home, Lauderman entered Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa., where he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2010.

In the fall of that year, he answered the call to move to North Dakota, where he is pastor of Bethel Moravian Church in Leonard and Goshen Moravian Church in nearby Durbin.

Lauderman says the biggest challenge of being a pastor in a rural area is traveling from his home in Leonard to minister to those who can’t get to church.

“I visit people in Casselton and Fargo,” Lauderman said, adding “It’s common for me to drive 35 to 40 miles.”

Leaving a six-figure salary meant adjustments for Lauderman and his wife.

“We’ve learned to do without a lot of things in life,” he said.

Before making a big career change, Lauderman advises doing research first.

“It can be a life-changing experience, especially going into a career that’s vastly different,” he said.

Shereen Liebelt: From health care administration to 'hands-on'

Many people begin their career track with a hands-on job and work their way up to a management role.

Shereen Liebelt of Fargo has taken an opposite approach, of sorts.

The 47-year-old divorced mother of three has gone from working in health care administration to working hands-on with the most critically ill patients.

“I went from the macro to the micro,” said Liebelt.

She grew up in Bismarck, and her family moved to Chicago when she was in high school.

After graduation, Liebelt held several jobs, including food service secretary at the former Hinsdale Hospital, now Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.

She was then hired as assistant to the hospital’s vice president for marketing and public relations, a job she held for 10 years.

Her duties included budgeting, project management and reviewing health care legislation.

Liebelt later left to raise her family on a hobby farm near Oriska, N.D.

When her kids were older, she tried to find another job in health care administration.

“I had a closet full of Nine West pumps in all colors,” said Liebelt.

But – no luck.

At age 40, she enrolled in college for the first time, and it didn’t faze her to sit in class with 18- and 19-year-olds.

With job security top of mind, she studied nursing.

“There will always be jobs for nurses,” Liebelt said.

Liebelt earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2011 from North Dakota State University and holds numerous certifications for life support, critical care and trauma care.

She’s now a registered nurse in both the critical care unit and emergency department at Sanford Health in Fargo.

“I’m an old, new nurse,” she added.

She very much enjoys how different the roles can be.

On any given ER shift, Liebelt could care for 10 patients, all with different health problems.

“In ICU, I have two patients at the most,” Liebelt said. “If the patient is very sick, it’s often one on one.”

Liebelt is matter of fact when it comes to the people she cares for.

“In ICU, often my patients die because they’re very sick or injured,” she said.

However, she tries to keep her emotions in check.

“No one wants a nurse crying in the corner,” Liebelt said.

She shrugs off the fact that it took her until her mid-40s to land where she’s at.

“It’s not like before, where people stayed in one career their entire lives,” Liebelt said. “I love what I do, and I’m very blessed.”