Lake County Elections Supervisor Emogene Stegall, 90, is my role model, a shining example of a strong working woman at the top of her game.
She could have retired decades ago, but this great-grandmother delights in getting up weekday mornings to go to work at her office a short two blocks from her Tavares home.
“I love my life working, and I love helping people,” she recently told me. “I like to have a reason to get up and get going.”
I totally understand her passion. Emogene was blessed with good genes and a positive spirit. She tries to get eight hours sleep, and eat a healthy diet—physical and mental health boosts.
“I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you’re 90, but I don’t feel any different from years ago when I was 50 or 60,” she says.
When her husband Edwin died in 2010, Emogene found work her best therapy.
“It was my lifesaver to get up and go and know I had to carry on,” she says. “You can sit down and moan and groan, or you can get up and be useful and make the most of it.”
She was a long-distance operator for Florida Telephone for several years before working for Supervisor Katherine L. Baker. When her boss retired 14 years later, Emogene ran for the top job and has held the position ever since.
Her 58 years in the elections office, and 44 years as elections chief come to an end Jan. 2, when Emogene retires, and a new supervisor is sworn in. (She bowed out from running for re-election at the request of her family.)
I’m saddened to see the Emogene Stegall era end, and will always admire her accomplishments: With 212,725 registered voters, she and her staff were committed to providing honest, fair, transparent elections.
“I have never been involved in a court of law nor had an election contested,” she says.
Also, she never fired an employee, and no one in her office ever left for another job. I wonder how many employers in the U.S. can make that claim?
In reflecting on this month’s Labor Day holiday, Emogene shares her philosophy: “We are all working to earn a living, so treat your employees like you would like to be treated,” she says. “It’s important to understand and be a good listener. I’ve always tried to be quicker to praise than to criticize. Be calm, don’t get upset, and if you’re going to confront someone, you do not do that when you’re angry or upset. And I would not have an audience, it’s something that you take care of in private, because people have feelings, and people make mistakes. We all make mistakes.”
She also has been conscientious as a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars, keeping her budget down, and being frugal.
“If something can be repaired, we’re not going to replace it,” Emogene says. “And that’s what I do at home.”
She plans to be active in retirement volunteering with children through her church, and it’s sweet that she’s still committed to serving others.
Thank you, Emogene, for all you have done for Lake County and for being a friend. You have touched more lives than you’ll ever know.