When she first started with the Forest Service computers and electronic correspondence were decades away. Now they are the primary way employees draft and share correspondence, as well as archive information – whether that is a letter or data related to reporting, monitoring or an environmental document.
Fortenberry began her professional career in 1957 when she was hired by General Electric to work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington. From there she moved to Boise, Idaho where she worked for Boise Cascade and in 1963 landed a position as a clerk-typist with the Soil Conservation Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture.
“I’ve had a wonderful career, seen a lot of changes and been able to work with many wonderful people,” Fortenberry said. “But I will keep in touch with them, even though I won’t be here every day.”
Besides the technological changes, Fortenberry has also seen changes in forest management. She played a key role in developing accounting methods for stewardship contracting.
But the workplace change that most people would identify with is also the one that Fortenberry recalls as she looks back on a career that spanned a half century.
“I suppose the major change I have been involved in was going from typewriters and Monroe calculator to the electronic age. Computers changed so much of how we go about our day-to-day work.”
Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin said Fortenberry’s remarkable length of service has provided the unique opportunity for daily mentoring to new employees, as well as offering continuity during transitions in workplace programs.
“With Ellen’s retirement, the Lolo National Forest is losing a vast amount of expertise and historical knowledge,” Austin said. “She has been a tremendous resource that we have all benefited from. Ellen is always helpful and contributes to the mission of the Forest Service every day. She will be greatly missed.”
Fortenberry said her immediate plans will include taking in University of Montana football and basketball games, spending more time with friends and family and enjoying the wildlife that frequents her ten acres in the Bitterroot Valley.