After 30 years, Douglas County’s Kay Pesnell to retire from Register of Deeds Office
photo by: Contributed photo/Douglas County
After working for Douglas County for 30 years, a longtime official is ready to step away from the job.
Kay Pesnell, who has worked for Douglas County’s Register of Deeds Office since 1990, will retire from the office’s top position at the end of the month. She has led the office for 18 years and was elected to the position by county voters four times.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to work for the constituents,” Pesnell told the Journal-World recently. “I really thank them for voting for me each time and keeping me in office. I feel like you are answering to all of the citizens of Douglas County.”
The Register of Deeds Office is responsible for recording various information related to the ownership of real property in Douglas County.
Although there was nothing in the law that prevented her from seeking a fifth term this year, Pesnell decided to retire instead. Originally, one of the main reasons for that decision was so that she would have more time to care for her mother, who was living with her. Unfortunately, Pesnell said her mother died later in the year at the age of 98. While Pesnell could still have changed her mind about retiring at that point, she said she didn’t feel it would be fair to her second-in-command, Kent Brown, who had stepped up and filed to run for the position himself.
So she decided to go through with her retirement. She now plans to spend the free time cleaning out her house and working on her garden, she said. She also hopes to spend more time with her grandchild and eventually travel when the coronavirus pandemic ends.
“I’m ready for something different,” Pesnell said.
Brown was elected to the position in November and is slated to take over the office in January. Pesnell said she had helped Brown prepare for the position and that she was sure Brown would do well leading the office.
Since he joined the office in 2010, Brown said he has looked up to Pesnell as a role model.
“Working together over the last decade, she has proven herself to be a true leader and has become a mentor to me in my career,” Brown said.
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Pesnell’s career in the office began in 1990 when then-Register of Deeds Sue Neustifter hired her to serve as a recording clerk. About 12 years later, when Neustifter chose to retire, Pesnell was appointed by the Douglas County Democratic Party to fill the position and finish the two remaining years of Neustifter’s term.
Then in 2004, Pesnell was elected to her first full term as the leader of the office.
“It’s always kind of a bumpy start when you take over (for) somebody,” Pesnell said of her initial appointment to the position. “(Neustifter) taught us well in the office, and I believed I was pretty qualified for the job … I was glad to be able to take it over.”
During Pesnell’s tenure, the office has undergone many changes, particularly involving technological improvements to make it easier for the public to search and find property records from the office.
Brown said the technology improvements in the office have been “groundbreaking.” During the last 10 years, the office has gone from having no electronic records to having more than 90% of its records in a digital format.
Additionally, the office made its website and information more accessible to the public, which Brown said occurred because of Pesnell’s leadership. He said the website improvements have come in handy when the COVID-19 pandemic this year led to many people being unable to leave their homes at times.
“While this year has challenged so many to adapt to circumstances that we never foresaw, Kay rose to the challenge and led the staff through unprecedented trials so that we never missed a single day of recording,” Brown said.
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While the office has modernized, it’s also very conscious of the county’s past.
The Register of Deeds Office is often seen as a custodian of county history because it has property records from as far back as 1855. Currently, the county consists of roughly 40,000 parcels of land, and the office is responsible for keeping track of the ownership records for all of them.
Many residents use the office’s records to learn more about Douglas County’s past or to try to map out their own genealogy, Pesnell said. She said helping with these types of requests makes the job fun.
But Pesnell said what she is most proud about during her tenure is the staff she has assembled and its ability to work with county residents.
“I’ve had a good staff, and we’ve given good customer service,” Pesnell said. “We’ve tried to make it easier for people who look at our records.”
Now that she’s leaving, Pesnell said she believes the office will continue to improve under Brown’s leadership. She said Brown, who is 34, will be able to bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the office’s top job.
“It might be time for us to have younger minds in some of these positions,” Pesnell said. “I think he will be very good and very good for the county.”
Brown said Pesnell will be remembered in the office as a leader who was a “team player” and always willing to learn from other perspectives.
“While her friendly demeanor and warm smile will be greatly missed, Kay will doubtlessly enjoy the hard-earned reward of retirement,” he said.
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