Couple retire after lifetimes of service at Mayo Clinic
Dan and Ellen Mueller have retired from Mayo Clinic after a combined 89 years there. Working at Mayo has been a longtime family affair for both.
If Mayo Clinic was handing out years-of-service bonuses to extended families, the Muellers and Booses would be in for a windfall.
The Muellers alone are good for nearly 250 years of service at Mayo Clinic. The Booses have wracked up 89 years' worth. When all the relatives on both sides of those families are considered, the number is upwards of 500 years of Mayo Clinic service.
For two of these families’ biggest contributors, though, the counter has finally shifted to “done.” That happened on May 5, when husband and wife Dan and Ellen Mueller exited Mayo Clinic for the last time, retiring on the same day.
It was an incredible run for both, with Dan starting by mopping floors and doing dishes at Mayo Clinic at the age of 16 and finishing as a 36-year Mayo 1 helicopter flight nurse. Ellen devoted 41 years as a medical secretary.
It's no coincidence that they hit retirement on the same day at Mayo Clinic, a place they described as a privilege to work.
“We finished on the same day, walking out together, because I wanted him to hold the door open for me,” Ellen said.
The Muellers and Booses have contributed 10 family members over the years to the Mayo Clinic workforce. That includes Dan’s father and mother, with Arthur working briefly as a stockroom clerk at Saint Marys Hospital and Helen as a nurse's aide and later a salesperson at the Saint Marys Hospital Gift Shop.
Both Dan and Ellen have a host of relatives now employed at Mayo Clinic.
But Dan will likely go down as impressive as any of them.
It might not have happened had Dan's mother not talked him into giving Mayo Clinic a call back. Dan, who’d graduate from Rochester Lourdes, had a dishwashing job at Perkins at 16 years old. Just prior to landing that job, he’d also sent an application to Mayo Clinic, looking for something menial.
He got a call back from Mayo saying it had a job for him. Dan was going to let that possibility go until his mom made him think again. The pay was better at the clinic, and besides, it was Mayo, one of the most renowned hospitals in the world.
Dan was sold. So it was "yes" to the dietary aide job they were offering, which included washing dishes, mopping floors and taking trays of food to patients. It was November of 1971 when he landed that gig.
“I noticed right away that (the clinic) was a lot cleaner (than any restaurant), and that I had a supervisor looking over my shoulder to make sure that I did things correctly,” Dan said. “They were nice, but their expectations were always high.”
That was the start of his 48 years at “Mother Mayo.” He was sold on the place, and the more he looked around, he was also motivated by it.
Gradually, he rose through the ranks. From dietary aide, to training for and then becoming a nurse's aide, to earning his nursing degree at Rochester Community College in 1977, to becoming a Saint Marys Hospital Emergency Room nurse, to October 1984 — after months of training — being hired to operate Mayo Clinic’s newly minted medical helicopter, the first of its type at the time in Minnesota.
The job suited Dan's personality, with him rising into the sky, then taking on the most difficult, lifesaving jobs. He describes Mayo 1's runs as intended for the sickest 1% of cases. Aggressive lifesaving methods are almost always required, with specialty training, of course.
“I always have had an inkling for adrenaline,” Dan said. “I was quite excited when I first started.”
With time, Dan lost some of that excitement. But he never lost his passion for his job or his desire to keep learning, which was mandatory. Whoever is chosen to make runs on Mayo 1 must maintain weekly training on procedures, since they see such a wide variety of cases.
Dan couldn't get enough of that, receiving training in everything from cardiology to pediatrics.
“There are so many different departments that we interact with, and we have to do it by their design,” he said. “There is something to train in every week. I’ve always had a fascination with that, about how much there is to know.”
Ellen also enjoyed her learning experiences. The New Hampton, Iowa, native started off as a medical secretary in pediatrics, then for her last 21 years at Mayo Clinic, she joined Dan’s department, as medical secretary for the flight crew.
“The aviation terminology was all different,” she said. “But I enjoyed the learning. It keeps you from getting stagnant.”
Now, the goal is to not get stagnant in retirement. Ellen is sure she’ll adapt just fine being away from her former work, though she loved it.
She’s a little less sure with Dan.
“So far, so good with Dan,” Ellen said. “But I definitely think he misses flying around in a helicopter.”