Office Moms dispense comfort along with supplies in their place of work

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Every office has one — that one person who holds it all together, whatever “it all” is. They know everyone's schedules. They know each person's birthday. They know the secret to fixing the fax machine.

They're our Office Moms and Dads. These men and women are boundless resources for everything from kind words to Kleenex. They're the go-to people for organizing office parties and know everyone's lunch orders by heart. Their desks are one-stop shops for any office supply or headache medicine.

They simply make office life more bearable.

“It creates a setting of trust, and when you foster trust with an individual and others, you're more likely to help each other when addressing complex problems,” says Brandy Aven, assistant professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University. “They definitely serve an important role.”

In honor of Administrative Professionals Day on April 24, we asked readers to highlight the hard work of their colleagues in attempts to find the Burgh's best office parents. We received stories of mentors, supporters and leaders.

The winner and reigning Office Mom is Donna Scafede, accounting assistant at GNC, Downtown.

“Donna has been with the company for almost 40 years. I'm not sure that she has removed anything from her desk in those 40 years either, which makes it a one-stop shop for any of our workday needs,” says Nicole Ferketic, 27, an internal auditor who nominated Scafede.

Scafede has worked with GNC in a variety of roles for the past four decades. That wealth of experience plus a penchant for dishing out advice has made her the office matriarch.

Scafede is a stickler for appropriate attire, we're told. She always dresses up for work, and if someone shows up at the office looking too disheveled, she lets them have it. So, when she showed up to work one day in November, she was shocked to see all her co-workers in their finest suits and dresses.

“I was so mad,” says Scafede, 67, of Spring Hill. “Nobody told me there was a special occasion.”

Turned out, she was the special occasion. The office dressed to the nines in honor of her birthday. When they told her the reason for their formalwear, “then I was embarrassed,” Scafede says with a laugh.

Scafede has pictures of more than 100 kids displayed at her desk, mostly coworkers' children. She often attends their dance recitals or sporting events.

She jokingly attributes her ability to stay on top of everything to “old age,” but her co-workers know Scafede simply has that certain something that makes office parents so special.

“We wouldn't trade our Office Mom for the world,” Ferketic says.

Office parents like Scafede can be key to company morale. Because happy employees don't typically leave their jobs, office parents can help keep businesses well-staffed, Aven says.

“They definitely help with retention,” she says.

Some people admit to feeling “lost” when their office parent takes a rare day off. A t Bethlen Communities Home Health and Hospice in Ligonier, office manager Sharon Vinsek knows where all the office supplies are. She knows how to fix the printer. But, more importantly, she makes it a point to make all people around her feel special, says co-worker Daryll Lee Wells.

“Sharon gives her undivided attention to all that cross her path,” says Wells, 68, of West Newton. “That's valuable.”

From delivering milkshakes to ill employees to collecting paper from the office shredder to give to a local woman who raises chickens, Vinsek is always thinking of others. Vinsek, 55, a mother of two and grandmother of four from Greensburg, has a knack for remembering people's personal stories and loves to ask about their families, hobbies or life happenings.

That kind of attention to personal details is paramount among office parents. Fran Kraus, receptionist at Pace School in Churchill, is known for greeting each person who comes through the door by name.

“We are a very small school and a close-knit family with Fran as our matriarch,” says Josie Henk, 52, of West Mifflin, the school's food-services director. “Any and everything you need is hidden under her desk somewhere and freely given with a ‘Take two, just in case,' attitude. We couldn't survive without her.”

Kraus, who's been doing her job since 1986, says there's “never a dull moment” at her work.

“I like everything about it,” says Kraus, 71, of Glenshaw. “I like being able to help the staff and students.”

Kraus admits her morning greetings for each person who comes through the school's door are more than just pleasantries — it helps her later in the day if someone is looking for that person.

“I can say, ‘No, they're not here. I didn't say good morning to them,'” she says with a laugh.

In addition to making people feel welcome, office parents also are good at keeping everyone well-fed. In the Office of the Auditor General, Municipal Pensions and Fire Relief, Downtown, that person is Debbie Zarko. She often comes to work ready with extra meatloaf, roast beef, soup or stew for her office mates and their families, says co-worker Virginia Cornyn.

“When my mother passed in 2008, she has never forgotten my dad and disabled brother (and brings them) leftovers, as well,” says Cornyn, 52, of Shadyside.

Zarko, 57, of Spring Hill, says her ability to care for her co-workers comes “just from being a mom” to her two sons.

“When you bring up two young kids, it sort of becomes habit,” she says.

It's not always people who need a nice meal from time to time. Carol DaRold, animal-care technician for Wildlife Works, Youngwood,spends her work days and spare time making sure animals at the rehab facility get all the nutrition they need.

And, yes, that sometimes means picking up roadkill.

“We have a vulture right now that really does need roadkill,” says Milly Gallik, 50, senior staff volunteer and board member who nominated DaRold. “She puts in long, stressful hours working with wounded and imperiled wildlife, and in her off hours, she does the animals' grocery shopping.”

DaRold simply loves helping animals.

“When you release an animal after taking care of it, it's such a good, comforting feeling,” she says.

Office parents often are known to go the extra mile. Marianne Signorini, executive administrator for Westinghouse Electric in Cranberry, once spent hours trying to track down a bracelet co-worker Michele DeWitt lost during a hectic couple of days traveling. Signorini called car services DeWitt had used in attempts to track it down. When that was unsuccessful, she found a replacement online.

“I just know how I would feel and put myself in someone else's place,” says Signorini, 50, of Monaca.

DeWitt calls Signorini the department's “head problem solver, chief expeditor, premiere retirement party planner and finder-of-all-things.”

Like her office-parent peers, Signorini has that special something that helps make each day run a little more smoothly, DeWitt says.

“She knows what you need before you even do yourself.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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