Thursday is La Salle County Clerk JoAnn Carretto’s last County Board meeting and Friday will be her last day on the job.
It will be the end of a remarkable career as one of the county’s most popular and respected officials, which began, literally, at the bottom.
When Carretto started with the county clerk’s office on Oct. 1, 1979, she first worked in the basement of the downtown Ottawa county building prior to the move to the then-new county building on Etna Road.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Carretto was a product of St. Patrick’s Elementary School and Ottawa High School.
As a girl she and her sister shared a paper route for The Daily Times in downtown Ottawa. Later they worked at what is now the Ottawa Pavilion as kitchen help. She liked the job, but when one of the other girls called in sick, the boss — her mother, the late Anna Vicich — would grab her by the foot from under her bed covers and say, “Come on, let’s go.”
Carretto attended Illinois State University for a year and a half with the idea she would become a home economics teacher before deciding to seek a job in Ottawa.
She had applied for jobs with Illinois Bell Telephone and the county. The county called first. Eventually so did the phone company, but by then it was too late.
County Board Member Tom Walsh, D-Ottawa, then the county clerk, was happy to have her.
The state’s consolidated election law was due to go into effect on Dec. 1, 1980, and there was a ton of preparation work to complete.
Today, all elections are consolidated into three or four dates in a two-year cycle, with voters able to vote in all elections at one polling place. Previously, each unit of government held its own elections. That meant voters often had to travel to a series of polling places to vote in municipal, township, county and various school district elections on the same day.
“Consolidated elections needed to be done, but I don’t think anyone really realized how much work there was until it happened,” Walsh said.
With the county now in charge of all elections, new precinct boundaries had to be drawn to accommodate all the government elections each voter was eligible to participate in.
Walsh observed Carretto showed the attention to detail necessary for such an exacting job.
Working with a county highway department employee, they slowly began to assemble the new precinct boundaries accounting for every address in the county.
The assignment had many challenges. One that sticks in Walsh’s mind is a school district that was unable to say exactly what its boundaries were. The only district employee who really seemed to know was the bus driver.
“So, JoAnn went out on the bus to see for herself what the boundaries were,” Walsh said. “The mapping was a very tedious process that we needed to get done quickly and JoAnn had the patience and logic to do it.”
Carretto worked her way up, eventually becoming chief deputy clerk under County Clerk Mary Jane Wilkinson, who had succeeded Walsh in 1990. When Wilkinson decided not to run again in 2006, Carretto ran for the position and won, then was elected twice more to four-year terms without opposition.
She said she probably would have run again except a serious health issue slowed her down and required — at her husband’s urging — that she make her own well-being top priority.
Besides having an ability for government paperwork, Carretto also developed a knack for getting along with politicians of both parties. In politics she took after her dad, the late Joe Vicich.
Her mother didn’t allow political talk at the dinner table, but otherwise her dad could not get enough, and she enjoyed listening to his commentary.
“He was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and he had an opinion about everything,” she said.
It steered Carretto into being a Democrat. But it is a little known fact her first political affiliation was as a Republican. Her mother served as a Republican election judge and once, when she could not serve due to surgery, the local GOP committeeman appointed Carretto as the replacement.
“I guess it’s OK to let that be known now,” Carretto said with a laugh after holding her hands over her face.
“There is no question that JoAnn is well-liked,” Walsh said. “The key to that has been the level of service she has provided in her office in a completely nonpartisan way.”
There are numerous other services the county clerk’s office provides. They include keeping birth and death records, issuing marriage licenses, the filing of numerous legal documents and, naturally, as the clerk for the County Board.
County Board Chairman Jerry Hicks said on the morning of a County Board meeting he typically gets together with Carretto to review the agenda and try to anticipate where roll call votes may be necessary and whether other preparations need to be made.
But Hicks said he also relies on Carretto, as have other officials, for her memory. If someone needs a refresher on why an action was taken — or why it wasn’t — Carretto is the go-to person.
“If she doesn’t know, she knows who to contact who does,” Hicks said. “I consider her a friend.”
On Tuesday, Carretto was in her office packing up plants and personal possessions, and thinking ahead to her meeting with Hicks Thursday morning for the afternoon County Board session, and then setting up a time with him Friday, her last day, to attest to his signature on ordinances, resolutions and other documents approved by the County Board.
“I guess, actually, it hasn’t really sunk in really that after 39 years I am leaving the county clerk’s office,” she said. “But I want to be done, and I want to be out. But, of course I will be available to help in any way I am asked in the future.”
And her future?
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do,” Carretto said.
One thing for sure will be celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Scott, in January. They plan to take a few weeks of Florida vacation in February. Although they have been to Florida before, it will be a first in the sense she will not be taking calls from the office.
It has been a good run, Carretto said.
“The one thing I really feel with all my heart and that I will take with me is what an honor it’s been to have been elected as the La Salle County Clerk and to have served the residents and voters for the past 12 years.”