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Butler woman, 96, holds job to 'keep moving'

| Sunday, May 18, 2014, 12:06 a.m.
96-year-old Helen Knauer, a clerk in the Butler County Clerk of Courts office, by the ornate marble steps in the courthouse on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
96-year-old Helen Knauer, a clerk in the Butler County Clerk of Courts office, by the ornate marble steps in the courthouse on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

The late Butler County Judge John Brydon used to joke with Helen Knauer that she was like the Energizer Bunny.

Indeed, the Butler native is still going years after others have retired.

In fact, she started her first job at an age when others usually retire.

Knauer was 66 when she became a member of Brydon's tipstaff.

At 79, she moved on to the Butler County Clerk of Courts Office, deciding to keep working after the judge and her sister, Ruth Brookheart, who was the judge's secretary and helped Knauer get the job, both retired.

Now 96, she's still working part time for the clerk of courts and is a cherished member of the staff. She plans to still be there when she turns 97 in July.

“We have the best office in the courthouse,” Knauer said. “It's a pleasure to work here.”

She often spends more time in the office than the 16 hours a week for which she gets paid.

She is soft-spoken, with a slight frame and white hair fashioned into a bob. Much to her chagrin, her doctor insists she use a cane to help with her balance. It hangs on the edge of her desk, and more often than not she's across the room before someone reminds her she forgot it.

Knauer still drives but only to work.

Each morning she makes the one-mile drive from her apartment on McKean Street to the courthouse. She arrives by 9 a.m. and often stays until 1 p.m., sometimes later depending on how much there is to do.

She helps with bank statements, prepares restitution checks to send out and organizes paperwork so that it's easier for the other staff to file.

“Putting these things together keeps my mind going,” Knauer said.

She said she keeps working because she enjoys it. It helps keep her busy and is a special comfort during times of loss.

Knauer has outlived two of her four children, a son and a daughter, as well as all of her siblings and her husband, Burt, with whom she shared 43 years.

“I have this job and that helps a lot,” Knauer said.

Her mantra: “I have to keep moving.”

She said she isn't sure when she'll retire for good.

“Lisa would like me to go to (age) 100,” Knauer said of Clerk of Courts Lisa Weiland Lotz. “Our office doesn't have any finish line, so there's work to do all the time.”

Knauer is known throughout the courthouse and staff often will plop down in the chair beside her desk to soak in some of her special brand of kindness.

“People need stability, and I think that's what you are, Helen,” Lotz told Knauer. “You wonder why you are here (still working); well, that's why you're here.”

What's special about Knauer is that she's just being herself. She doesn't “put on airs,” she says.

“I just am me,” she said.

Lotz and others in the office say Knauer is an inspiration, brightening the office when she's there.

“She's amazing,” Lotz said. “To see how she handles life.”

Family first, then job

Before Knauer started at the courthouse she was busy raising her children, taking care of her husband and “running taxi cab” for her kids.

After her husband died in 1975, she traveled on several cruises and has been to Hawaii four times.

She used to golf and bowl and play bridge with friends.

When the tipstaff job opened, she told her sister she was intrigued, but wasn't sure she was qualified.

She learned the ropes quickly during a two-week training. Soon, she was the go-to person when new staffers came on board.

“When I first started in 1994, she helped me because we would have to help select the jurors and there was Helen saying ,‘Now, Lisa, do this' and ‘This is how this works,'” Lotz said. “And it was just wonderful.”

During Knauer's years as tipstaff, which is an officer of the court who acts as the judge's aide during court and opens each session with an “all rise” when the judge enters, she would stay at the local Days Inn with sequestered jurors.

She did that several times for high profile cases like the Arnold and Ronald Williams murder trials in 1985, in which the brothers were convicted of killing a man at a Cranberry truck stop; and Donald Tedford, who was convicted in 1987 of abducting and murdering a woman.

When Knauer stayed with the jurors, accompanied by sheriff's deputies, she made such an impression on some of them that a few still keep in touch and send her Christmas and birthday cards.

“One day after the trial was over, this girl came in the office and she had a scarf for me, she said, ‘This is from my husband, he was on your jury duty.'

“I still have that scarf.”

What endears Knauer to her coworkers is the innocent way that she reflexively helps others and brings them joy.

She doesn't want special treatment due to her age. She is simply happy to be working and said she thanks God for each good day, she said.

“I don't want to be special,” she says, “I just want to be me.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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