Numbers, bones, rescue pets: Cathy Johnston embraces life and learning

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Cathy Johnston, a calculations clerk II in Accounts Payable who pursues a second bachelor’s degree, reads voraciously and has a variety of interests, from collecting bones to seeing the world’s archaeological wonders.

Q. Where are you from originally?
A. I’m actually from Hannibal. I graduated from high school there and both my son and daughter graduated from there. I lived in the Toronto area for a while. My husband is from there.

Q. I understand you’ve gone back to school here.
A. Besides working full time, I’m a half-time student, pursuing my second bachelor’s degree, in business administration. I have a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Toronto.

Q. Why did you return to the area from Canada?
A. Part of the reason we moved back here was my Dad was ill and I didn’t want my Mom to be by herself. And I’m a country girl.

Q. Where did you work when you came back?
A. I was a teaching assistant in the Cato School District. I was the most recent hire, and in a budget cut, I lost my job. At the time I came to SUNY Oswego, I was working at the Oswego Hospital in the emergency room on the overnight shift—I’ve got to tell you, at the age of 49 or 50, working overnights is not great.

Q. When did you start at SUNY Oswego?
A. I came to the college in 2010. I worked in Residence Life. I was front line for phones, email and walk-in traffic. I dealt with students, parents, anyone on campus. It was a good way to introduce myself to campus—Res Life has ties all over the place.

Q. How long have you been in your present job?
A. I’ve been here three and a half years. Accounts Payable has been my only other job on campus. I’m a calculations clerk II. When Byron Smith (former assistant vice president for finance and budget) first brought me in, it was to provide backup for each of the other three clerks. I learned how to do travel advances or reimbursements, how to pay purchase orders, and I learned how to process journal transfers, allocation transfers and how to balance the payroll accounts.

Q. What are your other duties?
A. I started to pick up some of my own things: I reconcile all the corporate Visa cards on campus. I look at every single receipt; I look to verify that it’s an eligible purchase, because there are strict rules on what you can and cannot buy. I make sure people are not being charged sales tax—I’m pretty sticky about certain stuff. I also pay all the contractors on campus, whether it’s the cable or Butler Disposal or PAC Construction or the people that pave or fix a roof. We have lots of term contracts, which are set up “just in case”—just in case they need a parking lot paved or a roof starts to leak. Then you have the construction projects around campus. I have a lot of contact with people all over the campus.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the job?
A. I’m a real numbers person. It’s very well suited to me. When they interviewed me for this position, they asked me what had been my favorite job. I worked for Chase Manhattan Bank for 10 years in Rochester and Syracuse in the investment department. I loved my job. From the minute I came in till the minute I left, I was busy, busy, busy. I work very well under time constraint. When I was a child, my grandfather collected coins, and instead of playing house, we would play banker—and I was always the banker. (Laughs.)

Q. What do you think of your co-workers?
A. We have a really good group of people. They are very supportive. It’s more like a family. It’s really nice to work with people you care for. When someone’s out, you fill in and you help out and it works out really good. Res Life was very much like that, too. I wish all offices could be like that.

Q. What is your goal with the business administration degree?
A. I want a professional position on the campus before I retire. I’ve got at least 10 years to work, so that’s my goal. I don’t think you’re ever too old to learn something new, and I try to make sure I do that every day. Plus, it’s a challenge. I never have shied away from a challenge.

Q. What else do you like to do on campus?
A. I’ve been involved with the Toy Drive Committee every year. I’m part of the newly re-formed Employee Assistance Program. And I’ve been a Genius Olympiad judge the past three years. I’m so impressed and blown away by the kids in high school who come up with these projects. The college is a great place to work. I am really proud to be an employee here. There’s so much that goes on here—you can’t help but be proud of it.

Q. What can you tell us about your family?
A. We have three children in Ontario and two here. I met my second husband, Duncan, on the Internet, in a chat room in late ‘99 or 2000. We talked with each other for months, and we dated for two years until we married. He would come this way with his son and his dog for a weekend, then I’d go the other way with my dog and cat and two kids. We lived in Mississauga for seven years. When I first got there, I didn’t have a work permit, so I decided to go to school. Two of our kids were going to college. I took a couple of my classes with my son. I don’t think I would have survived osteology if it hadn’t been for Nick.

Q. What are your off-duty interests?
A. I do love to read. I’ve usually got three or four books going in different places. My Mom and I camp together in the summer. We have a campsite set up seasonally in Lyons. My husband and I have three dogs and seven cats, all rescues. I love to travel. I have lots of places on my bucket list. I want to see the Great Wall of China and the pyramids in Egypt—that’s part of my anthropology-archaeology thing. I want to see the tunnels under Paris; passageways under the city are lined with skulls. I’ve got a “bone thing”—another one of my hobbies.

Q. What’s that about?
A. It’s the archaeology thing again. (Laughs.) I collect bones. We have 52 acres of woods. My husband takes the dogs out several times a day. I had him pull a huge snapping turtle out of the pond that had died. I dry out the bones and arrange them artistically as I put them back together. I like those medical-type shows, like “Bones.” Two of my favorite authors are Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.