Monessen city clerk ending long career
Rosalie Nicksich has endured six mayors, dozens of audits and more angry phone calls than she cares to remember.
And still, the longtime Monessen city clerk is sorry to go.
Nicksich will retire Jan. 3 after more than 25 years working behind the scenes while overseeing the city's finances.
“It's been very challenging. We have limited resources and everybody always needs something,” Nicksich said, laughing. “It's a constant battle, treading water and swimming around to try and keep your head above water. But I enjoyed the challenge.”
Nicksich was hired by Mayor James Sepesky on Feb. 29, 1988. Following him were mayors Bob Leone (1990-1998), R. Ted Harhai (1998-2002), John DeLuca (2002-2006), Anthony Petaccia (2006-2010), and Mary Jo Smith (2010-2014).
Different personalities, council members and agendas have come and gone with one common thread holding them together: Nicksich.
Smith said Nicksich is no less than a financial wizard.
“She managed the cash flow and managed it well, and I'm sure every other mayor and council that worked with Rosalie understood that,” Smith said. “She's the most loyal, dedicated employee. And without Rosalie, Monessen would not have made it this far. ... She knew how to work with the numbers, made sure all our bills got paid and all of our audits have come back with exceptional marks.”
Petaccia said, even though his administration occasionally butted heads with Nicksich, he found her to be an asset.
“Over the years, some of the employees dwindled and she took on more responsibility,” Petaccia said. “Rosalie certainly knew the ins and outs of the city and she made a lot of budgets for us.
“The internal setup wasn't exactly how I wanted it at times. But overall, she was a hard worker and very credible.”
Nicksich said that when working with numbers, she had to expect the unexpected – especially for a small municipality with a limited tax base.
“We have equipment breakdowns or our budget goes out of whack because I need to keep ordering salt,” she said.
“We had that crazy breakdown on Ninth Street and that took out ... money we had planned to accomplish other things.”
Nicksich hasn't only survived shortfalls and audits. She is a two-time cancer survivor after received diagnoses 10 years apart.
“In 1992, I survived breast cancer and in 2002, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. ... I was thinking in 2012 am I going to have a third case?” Nicksich said.
“I think after I got through the first bout, I did better the second time. But you would still have bad days. I learned somebody always had it worse and to not take anything for granted.”
On Nov. 8, 2011, her husband of 41 years, Ralph, collapsed and died of a heart attack in their home. He was 66.
“After I got over the initial shock, it was basically my family and my work that helped me keep it together,” she said.
“I just stayed busy nonstop just to keep it together and had the support of family, friends and fellow workers to get me through it.”
Nicksich said her biggest professional challenge was putting up with chauvinism from a handful of male council members during one unnamed administration.
“There were some of them that didn't think women could handle the job,” Nicksich said. “I'd get some crazy comments. ... That's how they felt, good or bad, right or wrong. I survived and I kept doing my job.”
Nicksich was known for coming in early in the morning and staying late. A constant flow of phone calls, emails and other distractions stole enough attention during regular business hours.
“I've spent long hours there, but sometimes it was very much worthwhile,” she said. “Sometimes, if it was early in the morning or late in the evening, it was peaceful. You could focus better and get more accomplished.”
When Nicksich first started, the value of one mill of real estate taxes in Monessen was $77,862. In 2014, one mill will generate just under $60,000. As a resident, the steady decline in revenue is her biggest concern.
“I think this last administration worked well together and, agree or disagree, set their sights on raising the tax base, which we definitely need,” Nicksich said. “If you keep demolishing things you lose your tax base. I get nervous because I think, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to make it long term without generating more revenue?' Because I can literally see the tax base dwindling.”
Nicksich said she chose to retire instead of remaining in limbo with the incoming administration. Mayor-elect Lou Mavrakis, who defeated Smith in the primary and Republican challenger Rob Zynosky last month, will be sworn in Jan. 6.
In the meantime, Nicksich was recently appointed by council to serve on the Monessen Library Board of Directors.
She is also a member of the Rotary Club, Monessen Lions Club – from which she was past president and previously received the Melvin Jones Award and Lion of the Year honor – and the Monessen Community Development Corp.
She is looking forward to volunteering more time to her church, the Epiphany of Our Lord parish on Knox Avenue.
There might not be a lot of number crunching or phone calls anymore, but count on Nicksich to stay busy.
“I think it's definitely going to be more of a challenge to not get up and go to work every day, but I'm sure I will keep myself busy,” she said. “I think I'll always be able to find something to do.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.