Maxine Ishler has served as Centre County court administrator, a position she loves, for more than 25 years.
The job has been challenging and rewarding, allowed for a different work experience every day, and provided the opportunity to meet a lot of people, she said. On Friday, after more than 40 years of service to the county courts, the Bellefonte native will retire from that post.
“I just want to say it’s been a privilege to be in this position, to work with the judges and commissioners and other elected officials, and to serve the people of Centre County,” Ishler said.
Ishler’s service in the county courts began in 1974, when she started at the Bellefonte office of District Justice Louise Green. After five years there, she moved to the Centre County Courthouse as the central court clerk. After a few other promotions, she was named to her current post in 1989.
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She and her staff played a prominent role in the handling of one of the biggest trials the county has ever seen.
Although it was a sad case, Ishler said, their work accommodating an enormous media presence from across the country and other duties during the Jerry Sandusky trial in 2012 was the biggest accomplishment of her long career.
“That was a completely different experience for us, one we never encountered before,” Ishler said.
She is also proud of helping to evolve the court administrator’s office over time, as more judges were added to the bench and, more recently, working with court administrators from other counties to develop an automated jury-management system, which is in use in Centre County. Ishler’s involvement in that project could leave a mark on courts across the state. Other counties have shown interest in adopting the system, she said.
Centre County is lucky to have dedicated professionals running the county, Ishler said, and that’s what she’ll miss most.
“I will miss the people I got to work with and interact with,” she said.
Assistant court administrator Barb Gallo has the office adjacent to Ishler’s. The pair were co-workers in Green’s office. The way Ishler manages an office and her leadership style is very reminiscent of Green, Gallo said.
Gallo described that approach as “soft glove.” While Ishler is always available to answer questions and makes sure everyone knows how to do their jobs, she also allows staff to work without constant supervision. That approach has two major benefits that Gallo can see: when Ishler is out of the office: Everyone does their job normally, without a hitch, and everyone in the office wants to work for her.
“She’s a tremendous motivator,” Gallo said. “No one in the office does anything she wouldn’t do.”
Senior Judge Charles C. Brown Jr., who made Ishler court administrator in 1989 when he was president judge, had a hard time remembering the exact year she took over as administrator because of her consistency and efficiency.
“She was always there,” Brown said. “You could always count on her.”
Brown, who retired in 2007, said Ishler was a “strong partner” in running the court system over the years. He described her as “well-prepared” and as having a personality that makes people want to work with her and work together.
Her efficiency as court loads increased was valuable, Brown said, because judges were free to do their work while she handled the rest.
It’s a sentiment shared by President Judge Thomas King Kistler, who noted that since Ishler took over as court administrator, Centre County has added two judges, and the number of cases has more than doubled. But Ishler, Kistler said, found ways to accommodate the growth while preparing for future expansion.
And he praised the way she managed the courts during the Sandusky trial.
“She’s just very solidly capable and we’re going to miss her,” Kistler said.
Tammy Hahn, Kistler’s secretary, said Ishler makes her job look easy.
“No matter what pitch is thrown, she hits it out of the park every time,” Hahn said.
A replacement has not been named and it will be up to Kistler to eventually decide on one. The court administrator is a state position, and he will have to send a job description to Harrisburg and make a choice from respondents.
As for Ishler, she plans to spend time with her family and possibly volunteer in the community. She said she is ready to retire after 40 years and said that bringing in “fresh blood” and new management ideas would be good.
“I worked hard to do well in this position and I want to make sure I can turn things over to the next court administrator so they can continue on the same path,” Ishler said.