An Abilene woman known for teaching self-defense and martial arts classes in the area left her day job a couple weeks ago.
Jeanie Cameron retired Friday, June 28 after spending 14 years working as a paralegal in the Dickinson County Attorney’s office. She was the first person most people saw when they visited the office located just east of the courthouse and often was the person answering the phone.
But more people may recognize Jeanie as the “karate lady,” the woman with the long blonde hair wearing a white martial arts uniform who taught untold numbers of martial arts classes over the years — both in and outside Dickinson County.
“When my daughter was in school, I had two names: Nikki’s mom and Karate Lady,” Jeanie said with a laugh.
Jeanie has a fifth-degree belt in tae kwon do, which means she spent years and years training and testing. She taught classes for nearly 40 years, including courses showing women how to defend themselves.
“Back surgery put a halt to my testing to become a master, so my husband Mark is going to have to do that for me,” she said.
The Camerons both teach tae kwon do.
Testing and teaching tae kwon do has been a good stress reliever for Jeanie Cameron over the years, especially during her years at the county attorney’s office.
“The things you see in this job stick with you. Some of it is heart-wrenching,” Cameron commented quietly.
She wouldn’t elaborate but said the cases that bothered her the most involved baby deaths. But for the most part, however, she has enjoyed her job at the county attorney’s office, where she not only was a paralegal but also the unofficial office manager.
“I love the job I do there. I love the bookkeeping, the accounting, the paperwork — the content of that paperwork, not so much,” she said. “But I like the challenge of getting everything done I’m supposed to get done. it’s an interesting challenge to get it accomplished within the required timeline.”
One of those timelines involves the call for first appearances.
“We have to make sure they’re ready for court, normally within a 24 hour period and lots of times within a three hour period,” she said.
Another of her duties is making sure County Attorney Andrea Purvis and assistant county attorneys Daryl Hawkins and Amy Coppola have the necessary documents they need for the daily docket.
Boss elected as CA
Cameron first joined the county attorney’s office in 2005 after her boss, the late Keith Hoffman, was elected county attorney in 2004 and moved into the office. She was Hoffman’s office administrator in his private law practice and continued in that role after he became county attorney.
The office manager role came naturally. Cameron began her career in the business world, starting at the age of 14 as a carhop at an A&W Restaurant in Plainville, the “big” town near her hometown of Zurich.
“(Husband) Mark and I argue which town is bigger — Zurich or Navarre? I say Zurich. He says it’s the other way around,” she said, laughing.
After high school, she graduated from the now defunct Salt City Business College in Hutchinson and got her first bookkeeping job at Hutch Vending. While in Hutch, she met her first husband and they moved to Zurich, but soon he got a job for a major oil company and they moved to Torrington, Wyoming.
“We were there a year, but it was so far away from home. So we moved back to Iola, Kansas,” she said.
Following her divorce, Cameron took a secretarial job in Salina with the state of Kansas, working in Child Support enforcement. While there, she met Hoffman, who was working for the same branch
Besides being an attorney, Hoffman was also a Solomon High School basketball coach.
T-shirts deliver job
“Funny story — one day Keith called me in Salina and asked me if I would pick up some T-shirts for his basketball team,” Cameron recalled. “When I tried to drop them off at his (Abilene) office, there was nobody there. I knew his secretary was moving so I kidded him and said, ‘If you would just hire me, you wouldn’t have to worry about nobody being there,’ and he asked me to join his office.”
Cameron worked for Hoffman and attorney Allen Angst, beginning in 2000 before moving to the county attorney’s office in 2005.
Hoffman planned to retire at the end of 2012, but died unexpectedly on Aug. 11, 2012. Cameron then went to work for Daryl Hawkins who became county attorney.
“Since the county attorney is elected, he could keep or get new help. I asked if I could stay and he agreed. Daryl wanted to try something different so we (the staff) became paralegals and he ran the office,” Cameron explained.
Unofficially though, Cameron still did much of the managerial duties — a practice that continued until her retirement a couple weeks ago, working for current County Attorney Andrea Purvis.
“I reconcile the budget for the month and year, approve payroll, order supplies, open traffic and felony cases, gather information and reports, submit vouchers,” Cameron said.
“I made a list for Lisa (Melhus-Daniels who is taking over Cameron’s duties). That list is like 18 pages long,” Camron said.
As for the attorneys and others in the county attorney’s office, Cameron said she would miss them “like crazy.”
“You spend more time with your co-workers than with your family. They become your family. You have to love, laugh and fight,” she said.
While Cameron didn’t have much to say about the cases she’s seen over the years, she did say the subject matter of those cases is getting more stressful as Abilene and Dickinson County see more and more cases of violent crime.
“If you don’t believe it, just go look online at who’s in jail and why they’re there. We have people in for drugs, domestic battery, attempted murder,” she said. “All that is happening in our neighborhoods. I think people need to be aware.
“People should never take anything for granted. I believe you should accept people for who they are, but be careful and be aware of your surroundings,” she said. “Crime is out there.”
As for retirement, Cameron plans to keep busy. She is planning to take trips with her family to Padre Island and Washington, D.C.
Her younger daughter, Nikki Meagher, works for Congressman Roger Marshall and has planned a tour of the White House and Capitol building.
Jeanie’s older daughter, Lisa Murphy, an assistant manager at Vanderbilts in Salina, got her mother a part-time bookkeeping job at Vanderbilts to “get me out of the house,” Cameron said with a laugh.
Cameron also hopes to spend extra time with her six natural grandchildren, Brooklyn, Taygen, Kyson, Lexxi, Brady and Alli, and two stepgrandchildren, Annah and Dawson.
“They are going to keep me busy,” she said.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.