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Lois Sahyoun to retire next week after 33 years with San Joaquin County

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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:00 am

Shortly after Steve Gutierrez became a San Joaquin County supervisor in 1997, Lois Sahyoun brought him back to earth.

Gutierrez was frustrated about his colleagues during his early days on the Board of Supervisors, and it showed. That prompted Lois Sahyoun to march to Gutierrez's office one day and close the door.

"Young man, I think it's about time to stop pouting and get on to the business of the county," Sahyoun told him.

Gutierrez, who left the board in 2008, grew to respect Sahyoun, whom he described as "a very, very classy lady."

Sahyoun, 67, is calling it a career on Jan. 25 after 42 years of public service, 33 with the county and nine as district coordinator for former Rep. Norm Shumway, R-Stockton. She'll be busy in her retirement with volunteer work, particularly cataloguing her extensive collection of county documents, photos and other memorabilia.

At Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Steve Bestolarides credited Sahyoun with ably working with board members with diverse backgrounds and opinions.

"She's truly the most powerful person up here," Bestolarides said.

Former Supervisor Leroy Ornellas added, "We're like little children. We go to Lois with every little complaint."

In addition to the current board members, former supervisors Dario Marenco, Doug Wilhoit, Victor Mow, Gutierrez and Ornellas were present on Tuesday to honor Sahyoun.

Sahyoun was clearly not used to all the attention.

"I'm usually the person in the background," she said. "It's hard to leave something you love."

As clerk of the board, Sahyoun prepared the board meeting agendas and minutes, fielded public records requests from the community and answered all kinds of questions from the public. She also served on several county committees and was active with board clerks at the state level. During her career, she worked for five county administrators and six county counsels.

"I believe her dedication and demeanor has kept the board on an even keel," County Administrator Manuel Lopez said.

Sahyoun started her career with the county in 1966 as a clerk typist for the Human Services Agency. She was the Board of Supervisors' office manager before becoming district coordinator in Shumway's Stockton office in 1979. Sahyoun knew Shumway because he served on the Board of Supervisors before being elected to Congress.

"I worked with constituents trying to break through all the (federal) bureaucracy," she said.

After Shumway left office in 1989, Sahyoun became administrative manager to the Board of Supervisors. Two years later, she was named clerk of the board.

Even though she'll miss being board clerk, Sahyoun will keep herself busy. She is serving her fourth term as a county Parks and Recreation Commissioner, and volunteers as a Senior Project judge at Bear Creek High School and an annual event called Recovery Happens for people suffering from substance abuse.

Sahyoun also plans to attend her 50-year high school reunion in Ketchikan, Alaska in July, but her biggest project will be organizing the county's historic documents and photographs, some of which date back to the 19th century.

There's a room the size of a small office on the sixth floor of the county administration building in downtown Stockton containing all sorts of county history. The room is dubbed the "Enclave."

The Enclave is filled with framed pictures of current and past supervisors, manila folders of each current and former supervisor since Sahyoun's worked at the county, books of official county government records, and cardboard boxes with so many film negatives that Sahyoun doesn't know what's in some of the boxes.

Sahyoun lives in Stockton with her husband, Steve, who is a retired Human Service Agency employee. They have three children and four grandchildren.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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