Susan Neustifter's good deeds for the Lawrence community have earned her several awards. But it was her ability to keep track of deeds that earned her the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Buford M. Watson Jr. Public Service Award Friday.
Neustifter worked in the Douglas County register of deeds office from June 1, 1959, until she retired July 1, 2002. She spent 30 of those years leading the office as the register of deeds.
Neustifter said she knew Watson when he was Lawrence's city manager, which added a special meaning to winning the award for exceptional public service.
"I feel very honored to receive this award," she said. "He was a very nice guy and very outgoing. The community lost a lot when he passed away."
Neustifter said she joined the deeds office a few days after graduating from Eudora High School because there was an opening and she enjoyed working with the public. She served continuously for 43 years except for a six-month break to campaign for register. She served nine terms in that position and was elected her last seven times without any formal opposition.
Neustifter led the office in a time of transition. When she began as a clerk, deed records were recorded and stored in 30-pound books. In the 1980s, records began going onto computers and the books had to be copied onto microfilm and eventually onto compact discs.
"It was very frustrating," she said of the technology switch. "At first no one wanted to mess with the computers. After we got trained, it was great."
Kay Pesnell, who replaced Neustifter as register, said her former boss' leadership skills kept things organized and helped the office work as a team.
Neustifter has taken on other leadership roles in the community. She has served as president, vice president and secretary of the Kansas Register of Deeds Assn. and participated in Soroptimist International of Lawrence, Lawrence Business Women and the Lawrence Noon Lions Club. She received Lion of the Year in 2001 and a 40-year award from the Kansas Association of Counties.
After she retired in 2002 to spend more time with her daughter and grandchildren, who live in Michigan, Neustifter quit her participation in most of those activities. She does stay active in the Lions Club, where she has been treasurer for the past seven years. She also delivers eye tissue to the Heartland Eye Bank in Missouri.
Mary Gordon, president of the club, said Neustifter was a joy to have in the group because she would help with things that take a lot of time and not everyone would be willing to do, such as travel with Gordon to other cities for meetings with groups outside Lawrence.
"She's not just a member of the club, but a participant," Gordon said.