Steve Helmueller finds his match at home, work and over the board
Steve Helmueller, an accounting officer at Dakota County Technical College, was known as the quietest student on his floor at Saint John Vianney College Seminary on the campus of the University of St. Thomas. His soft-spoken, respectful nature earned him the nickname, “Tornado.” Although Steve does not come across as your typical F5 cyclone, he does approach life with a determination, good cheer and integrity that make him a whiz at accounting, chess and married life.Born in Plum City, Wis., 57 years ago and today a resident of Rosemount, Minn., Steve followed an unlikely route to the accounting field, which dates back 70 centuries to Mesopotamia and Assyrian accountants who tracked the numerical elements of raising livestock herds and food crops. Faith, not arithmetic, guided Steve’s formative career decisions. In fact, he studied for 10 years to become a Catholic priest before a remarkable turn of events altered the course of his life.
Steve attended Nazareth Hall Seminary formerly located on the shore of Lake Johanna in Arden Hills, Minn. Chess, Steve’s favorite pastime, was already a part of his life at Nazareth, where he was an active member of the seminary’s Chess Club. Unfortunately, Nazareth Hall closed at the end of his freshman year. Steve enrolled at Crosier Seminary, near Mille Lacs Lake in Onamia, Minn. He lived on campus at the seminary, which closed its doors in 1989.
“While most kids were living at home, I was gone,” Steve said, referring to his three years at Crosier. He graduated from the seminary in 1973.
He continued his quest for the priesthood through four years of college at Saint John Vianney Seminary and another two years of grad school at The St. Paul Seminary, which later merged with St. Thomas. Steve didn’t mesh with life at St. Paul, but he soon found a home studying with a missionary congregation of oblates in Illinois. This oblate order did a variety of different ministries, including teaching as well as retreat and parish work.
Steve was happy in Illinois, possibly happier than at any time during his years of seminary schooling. That happiness would not last, however, things took a harsh turn early one Christmas morning when Steve was preparing to serve mass at a mental health center in town. He happened to notice only one client waiting for the service—and the next thing he knew the priest had nixed plans to say mass. Steve was thunderstruck. He could not understand how the priest could refuse to say mass on Christmas morning for a lone client who obviously had no place else to go.
“When you see a good move, look for a better one.”
—Emanuel Lasker | German Grandmaster
World Chess Champion for 27 years
Steve later confronted the priest. He sincerely wanted to know why the priest had declined to say mass. The priest pointed out that “indigent” people were not required to attend mass on Sunday. Steve walked away wondering what the term indigent meant. He promptly looked up the word and found this definition: “so poor as to lack even necessities; very needy; an impoverished person.” Needless to say, Steve was not mollified. He couldn’t see how indigent people not required to attend mass excused a priest from saying mass on holiest day of the Christian. He returned to challenge the priest’s decision on several more occasions and got a different reason each time.
“He eventually blew up at me,” Steve recalled. “He told me that he hoped one day when I was a priest some ‘little bastard’ altar boy would come up and start picking away at me. I was shocked.”Some time later, the priest called Steve to his office one morning to inform him that he had been expelled from the congregation. One other priest was called in to witness and support the move. Steve’s own spiritual director, another priest on the staff, just happened to be away on a trip. Steve was handed a plane ticket and sent on his way that very day, ending his dream to become a priest after a decade of study. His new path led him to Ixia Velez, the future wife of his dreams.
After his experience with the oblates in Illinois, Steve had to rethink his career objectives. He had a BA in sociology from University of St. Thomas, but couldn’t see a job in that profession that matched up with his skills and disposition.“I knew what I didn’t want to do, but I had no clear idea what I actually wanted to do,” said Steve, who elected to work at Target as a stock clerk for four years while earning his MBA from St. Thomas. Over time, he figured out that he was agreeably suited for a career in the accounting field, but his MBA wasn’t the ideal degree for that pursuit. In 1989, he got a BA in accounting from St. Thomas and quickly landed a job in the university’s Business Office. He started in a cash management position and was soon promoted to business office manager.
“I found out supervising is not my thing,” Steve said. “So the university created a new position for me in the Controller’s Office as an accountant. I loved the work and loved the people I was working with at St. Thomas, but after four and half years the workload became too much. I couldn’t even take vacation due to all the work. Eventually, I started to lose one week of vacation every quarter. That convinced me to seek a less stressful job in my field. ”
Steve continued working as an accountant at jobs in Texas, Connecticut, downtown Minneapolis and Eagan until he applied for an accounting technician position (since upgraded to accounting officer) at DCTC in 1998. “In June of 2013, I will have been at DCTC for fifteen years,” he said. “I’ve never worked at any job that long. My previous record was four and a half years.”Steve considers meeting Ixia a watershed event in his world. A native of Puerto Rico and a graduate of Macalester College, Ixia serves as a social worker for Catholic Charities. Steve and Ixia were living in the same apartment building when they met. At first, Ixia didn’t know what to do when Steve asked her out to dinner. She went to her friends and family for advice. What are you thinking? they wanted to know. Go out with him!
“Ixia had her doubts,” Steve recalled. “She has strong Puerto Rican roots and I’ve got my German heritage. She didn’t know how the two cultures would mix. After a year of dating, however, I went to Puerto Rico to meet her parents, sisters and brother. I passed the family test without knowing a bit of Spanish.”
Ixia’s father, Roberto Velez, a retired attorney and dean of a law school in Puerto Rico, shares Steve’s passion for chess. They play frequently online and trade wins. “We are evenly matched,” said Steve, who has visited Puerto Rico twice. Ixia’s family owns homes in San Juan, the island commonwealth’s capital, and Añasco, a municipality on the island’s west coast.
“Ixia and I were married in 2000,” Steve said. “The years I’ve been married to her have been the best years of my life.”
- What brought you to DCTC?
I love accounting. I had nine years of experience in my field working in higher education when an accounting position opened at the college. I applied and here I am 15 years later.
- What skill set or knack makes you good at your job?
Attention to detail and the capacity to be very analytical. The ability to relate to my customers is equally important.
- What’s the hardest part of your job?
The end of the fiscal year is always difficult. Summer deadlines can be tough.
- What is your favorite pastime or hobby?
I love chess. I play face to face every Monday in the college’s central commons against other members of the DCTC Chess Club. I also play online every day and once a month at live tournaments.
- What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
I am very proud of my MBA and BA in accounting. I am also proud of my years at St. Thomas and DCTC.
- What is the one thing you have not done that you would really like to do?
I have a wife, brother, sister and numerous in-laws who are fluent in Spanish. I need to learn to speak Spanish.
- Where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere?
I would like to visit every national park in the U.S. I would also like to play in a chess tournament in every state.
- What is your favorite season of the year?
November through April is chess season. That is my favorite time of the year.
- If you could learn to do anything, what would you learn to do?
I would also like to learn how to cook like my mom and fix anything like my dad.
- If you had to change your first name, what name would you pick?
- If you could be any kind of animal for a day or even a year, what kind of animal would you be?
Eagle. I want to be at the top of the food chain, not on the lunch menu.
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
The wedding ring I gave my wife, Ixia.
“I take great pride in the work I do. Having the ability to focus for long periods of time on relatively mundane material and knowing how to share my accounting knowledge with other people are critical to my success as an accounting officer. My customers at the college are faculty and staff and I strive to provide excellent service each and every day.” — Steve Helmueller
For more information about the DCTC Business Office, please contact:
- Miliite Gebremichael
DCTC Business Manager
For more information about Accounting at DCTC, contact:
- Marie Saunders
- Nancy Shoemake
- Lyle Stelter
- Patricia Weigand