President’s address to the membership at 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Willette_HighResThe following is the speech given by 2017-2018 NCRA President Christine J. Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC, at the 2017 Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev.

Because some of my fellow board colleagues and I visited the Mob Museum earlier this week and since we are in Las Vegas, I have a strange question for you before we begin:

Show of hands, how many of you have heard of Jimmy Hoffa?

Jimmy Hoffa was the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest labor unions in the United States. He did some time in prison for tampering with a jury, and he didn’t attempt to hide his ties to the Mafia and organized crime. Even as shady characters go, Jimmy Hoffa was pretty shady.

In July of 1975, Jimmy Hoffa mysteriously disappeared. His body has never been found. In the 42 years since his disappearance, there have been many theories about where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried: Perhaps the end zone of a sports stadium in New Jersey, underneath a tattoo parlor in Tokyo, a cement barn floor in Michigan, or in the Florida Everglades.

I can’t tell you where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. But I can definitively tell you where he is not buried.

You see, I grew up on a beautiful lake in northern Wisconsin. I lived on a resort: Whispering Pine Lodge, which four generations of my family owned and operated. It’s where people came to relax and unwind. Boating, fishing, tennis, snowmobiling … you get the picture. St. Germain, Wis., a town I can nearly guarantee no one in this room, outside of my family and Wisconsin colleagues, has ever heard of. It’s a small town. 1,500 people during the serenity of winter swelling to 15,000 in the summer. I no longer live in St. Germain, but it will always be home for me.

While none of you have heard of St. Germain, you know who has?

The investigative crime unit of The New York Times! That’s who!

Let me take you back to what promised to be like any other peaceful, cold Wisconsin winter night in 1976. My mom had taken me to ice-skating practice. Upon our return home, we were greeted in our kitchen by several men in dark suits questioning my dad and grandpa.

Take one guess what they were looking for!

You got it. Someone had fed The New York Times a tip that Jimmy Hoffa was hiding at a lodge in northern Wisconsin. Sorry, guys, wrong lodge. After several hours of persuading conversation, they moved on. And though it might be interesting to tell you that my interest in the legal field — and specifically, court reporting — was somehow related to my exposure to this strange encounter at the age of 11, that is not the case.

The truth is, however, that I did learn about court reporting at Whispering Pine Lodge. Whispering Pine Lodge was a resort much like the one where “Baby” meets Johnny Castle in the movie Dirty Dancing. If you haven’t heard of Jimmy Hoffa, you probably haven’t heard of Dirty Dancing, either.

There was a guest who returned to Whispering Pine Lodge each summer with her family. She would spend time proofreading while lounging on the beach. I remember asking her what she was doing. She shared her story and answered my many questions. I was immediately captivated. With encouragement from my mom and my favorite business teacher, Mr. Check, my court reporting journey began.

When I graduated from court reporting school in the spring of 1985, I was ready to take on the world. After 32 years in this profession, I am still amazed by our skill each time my fingers hover over my keys awaiting the first word. I have heard some people call it magic!

So, no, I didn’t learn anything about Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place during my childhood at Whispering Pine Lodge. Instead, and even better, I learned about court reporting.

I’ll get back to that in a moment. What I’d like to do now is extend a sincere welcome to my colleagues, guests, and family.

I also want to thank and acknowledge our outgoing president, Tiva Wood.

Last year in Chicago, after her motivational speech, Tiva looked me in the eye, and said, “Well, only 52 weeks left!” The work that Tiva has done over the past year to support and advance our profession has been inspirational. Tiva, thank you for your dedication and leadership! You are an incredible mentor, colleague, and friend.

Last year, Tiva talked about how important it is for each of us to tell the story that lead us to court reporting and how fascinating our career can be. Tiva talked about how ridiculously hard court reporting is and that the challenges we face as a profession are, likewise, ridiculously hard.

While we have made progress, our challenges remain formidable. Our work as a profession and as an Association must rise to meet those challenges. Yes, we have challenges that were decades in the making, and we’re not going to fix those challenges overnight. However, if we are to achieve any level of success, we must meet those challenges together with hard work, service, and perseverance.

I also wish to congratulate and thank the new NCRA Board of Directors for their service and commitment to tackling these challenges. Our new opportunities for improvement will require hard work, service, and perseverance.

NCRA is an organization that relies heavily on the contributions of volunteers. An understood component of volunteerism is that you are giving your expertise and, of course, your time. Over the next year, I will invest my time and energy to do the best I can to make this profession and Association thrive. I proudly and gladly sacrifice this time and energy. But in so doing, I must first do something that for me will be ridiculously hard. There are some very special people in my life who are here today. They have been so understanding of the time I have sacrificed with them while I serve a profession I love.

These people are an indelible part of my story: my cousin Kari and her husband Geoff; my aunts, Kathy and Mary Kay, who have served as babysitters, role models, and friends; my parents, Rosalie and Gary, who exemplify the true meaning of love and dedication, who taught me what hard work, loyalty, integrity, and caring for others means. I’m so pleased that our children Shawn, a mechanical engineer, and Andrea, a CPA and financial analyst, are here this weekend. My husband, Mike, and I are incredibly proud of them.

And, certainly most important, and unfortunately sometimes last, Mike, my husband of 31 years. Mike, along with my dad, is one of the most patient and supportive people on earth. Whether I’m traveling, spending yet another night on a conference call or physically in Mike’s presence but with my attention glued to a computer on my lap, he takes it all in stride, respects my call to duty, and knows that this is a labor of love.

I love you all very much.

Now, let’s go back to Whispering Pine Lodge because it was at that resort where I was exposed to not only court reporting, but also hard work, service, and perseverance.

We lived in the main lodge at Whispering Pines. This required 24/7 availability to deliver the services our guests expected. It required that four generations work together as a team. I learned about being kind, thinking of others, and that anything worthwhile took time … that perseverance meant having the focus and patience to get there one step at a time.

I don’t have to tell you about perseverance. We all experienced it in court reporting school, making progress one step at a time. And our work as a profession and as an Association must be no different.

Early in my career, while I was getting established as a new professional, I was drawn to the concept of service to my profession, but I couldn’t immediately find a way to get involved.

Sometime in the ‘90s, I got an email from the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association president. She asked if I was interested in filling a vacated spot on the WCRA board. I thought, “Me? Really? What could I possibly offer?”

But here it was, my opportunity to serve. It was my time to give back to the profession that had given me so much. Did I have the spare time? Not really. I was busy working as a reporter, managing my firm, and raising two very active teenagers. Still, I felt the strong urge to step up and give back. I said yes!

At my first board meeting, I sat in awe of the talent in the room. I couldn’t believe the opportunity in front of me. Before I knew what hit me, I was asked to represent WCRA at NCRA’s Legislative Boot Camp in Washington, D.C. I thought, “Me? Really? What could I possibly offer?”

While there, I met state leaders from across the country, and my awe grew as I saw the lengths to which others would go to serve this profession. I was incredibly inspired by the passion of those who served at the national level. I shared their passion. I shared their pride for our profession.

I worked and persevered for the profession back home, doing what I could to advocate and serve Wisconsin court reporters. I was doing what I knew. You guessed it: hard work, service, and perseverance.

Then in 2010, the phone rang. No, it wasn’t The New York Times looking for Jimmy Hoffa. It was the NCRA President, who was asking me to fill a vacated position on the NCRA Board of Directors. And this time, I didn’t just think it, I said it out loud: “Me? Really? What could I possibly offer?” I humbly accepted.

In 2014, after four years of board service, I chose not to seek a leadership position on the NCRA Board. Mike and I were moving. We had two college graduates getting settled into their adult lives and scattering to different parts of the country. I wanted to spend more time with my family. And, of course, I had my firm; my reporters and my business needed my attention. I didn’t believe I had the time to serve at a higher level.

But a funny thing happened. That hard work … that perseverance … that commitment to serve my profession — I couldn’t just turn it off. I felt like I’d left something undone.

So, in early 2015, when I was a mere seven months into my NCRA Board “retirement,” and I was asked to run for NCRA Vice President, I didn’t hesitate. “Me? Really? Yes! I know I have something to offer.”

So, I stand here today, with equal parts pride and humility, as your NCRA President. “Me? Really? Yes.”

I have no magic wand like our keynote speaker Steve Wyrick. I have no innate ability to create change with a snap of my fingers. What I do have is you. And I’m asking you to join me on our journey. Engage. Volunteer. Take a stand for our profession.

We are all busy. You know who gets the most done? Busy people.

Our NCRA Board consists of 14 people. We have a staff of about 30. We have hundreds of volunteers serving on NCRA committees, serving at the state and local level, and volunteering at local outreach events. But the challenges in front of us demand that more people get involved. I ask each of you to summon something more to serve this profession during a time of intense need.

Are you thinking to yourself, “Me?” Yes, you. “Really?” Yes, really. “But what could I possibly offer?” That answer lies within yourself. Choose what part of the profession interests you. Choose how you want to serve. Find your passion and apply that passion in some meaningful way. We need your hard work. We need your service. And we need your perseverance.

Oh, and let me tell you a little secret about volunteer service: It’s not just about giving. You also get something in return. You learn new things. You make new friends. You open doors you never knew existed. You get an immense feeling of satisfaction knowing that you took part in changing our profession for the better and that when your profession needed you most, you stepped up.

Let’s talk about a few of the opportunities for you to get involved:

It’s no secret that our profession needs replenishing. Three years ago, we published a study that showed that within five years — two years from now — the demand for stenographic reporters would exceed supply by more than 5,000. Whether you’re one year from retirement or one year from graduation, the court reporting shortage will affect every person in this room.

Last year, we introduced NCRA’s A to Z steno program as one way to perpetuate interest in the court reporting field. It’s a way for prospective students to learn a basic court reporting theory before committing to school. We’re asking state Associations, firm owners, and individual reporters to take the time to set up a local A to Z program in your areas. Twenty-four hours is all it takes to make a difference.

Get out and advocate for our profession. This year, representatives of NCRA have attended numerous events. Among those have been state conventions, judicial conferences, and conventions for the Hearing Loss Association of America, the National Career Development Association, and the American School Counselors Association. This fall, NCRA will be represented at the Military Order of the Purple Heart convention, the Court Technology Conference, and the conference for the Association of Late-Deafened Adults. We’ll be looking for local volunteers. This is your opportunity.

More options? Take advantage of the ready-to-use resources available to members through Take Note, Discover Steno, and the NCRA websites to recruit students. Or how about mentoring a current student?

All of these choices, and we haven’t even touched upon the opportunities to improve your professional worth through additional certifications and educational offerings.

This year, we will be rewriting our strategic plan. We will be formulating a plan that will guide us through the next three to five years. Frankly, I don’t foresee much change in our key priorities and goals. The path is clear: We must examine our budget and live within our means with a realistic vision of what we can accomplish. We must grow our membership. We must recruit students and help them graduate. We must create value for all segments of our membership and make NCRA the place we all call our professional home.

We must find common ground, set common goals, and settle on nothing less than success. The future of our profession demands a new level of hard work, service, and perseverance.

I ask you now to consider where you are, where you’ve been, and where you could be. What do you possibly have to offer? You — yes, you — can make a difference.

Feel the pride. Embrace the passion. Make it contagious. And always remember: The magic is at your fingertips.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.