A lot has changed since Pam Radtke first began working in the office of the Clerk of Courts in 1978. Now, after a 43-year career, she's preparing to retire.
When Pam Radtke walked into the La Crosse County Clerk of Courts office for the first time in 1978, she heard a chorus of clacking typewriters and watched clerks’ thumb through heavy case books.
Now, some 42-years later, Radtke is preparing to retire from a much quieter office, where court cases are e-filed, and archives are stored digitally. It was under her leadership that the office transitioned from a paper and ink-based system, to one of pixels and digital clouds. She began working in the office in 1978 in an entry-level position and was elected Clerk of Courts in 1996.
“The files were stacked to the ceiling in the old courthouse, and people were climbing ladders to get what they needed,” Radtke recalls. “That was always a topic of concern back then, where are we going to put all our files!”
In her first year as Clerk of Courts, Radtke oversaw the move from the old courthouse, also known as the old admin building, to the new Law Enforcement Center in downtown La Crosse. She had three opponents in her first election but has been unopposed in every election since then.
Radtke has worked with 13 different judges over the decades, and coordinated many jury trials, including a handful when jurors were sequestered. This meant jury members were put up in a hotel to seal them away from media. It was Radtke’s job to coordinate meals and hotel stays, and those trials stick out in her memory, as do the many big technological shifts she helped implement. But nothing could have prepared Radtke for the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw court hearings become virtual events and much of her team shift to working remotely. Radtke’s office remained open throughout.
“By statute, the courts had to be open, so somebody had to be here to take papers and be accessible to the public,” says Radtke, who is a lifetime resident of Bangor. “I have a great team, and they made it a lot easier.”
Radtke’s last day in the office will be in early August and she’s looking forward to traveling with her husband and spending more time with her family including her six grandkids. But the transition will be difficult.
“My husband says I thrive on stress, and I do,” she says. “Apart from that, after being here so long, it’s just going to be weird not coming in here.”
She’ll miss her colleagues the most, both in her own office and throughout the state and county.
“The collaboration here at La Crosse County between all the different departments is awesome,” Radtke said. “I’ve had clerk of courts in other counties say they don’t talk to the DA, they don’t talk to their sheriff, some don’t talk to their judges, and that’s just not how we do things here. When we need to solve a problem, we cooperate, and we get it done.”