Donna Freng

Donna Freng is a common face for those that associate with Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services (LCBHS). As maintenance supervisor, Freng visits each of the five LCBHS-owned facilities - three located in Yankton and two in Vermillion - on a weekly basis.

During her rounds, Freng checks the building’s security cameras and makes sure everything is working properly, from the boiler to the lights. If an apartment has recently been vacated, she is tasked with cleaning and repairing anything that sustained damage from either time or the previous occupant.

Prior to joining LCBHS, Freng worked as a contractor, a profession that led to her garnering enough attention to warrant a HerVoice article back in 2003.

Freng began her contracting career in 1987 when she resided in the Volin area. She had previously gotten her start with hard labor at age 18 driving a hot-mix truck for Sioux Falls Construction.

In 1996, Freng joined the Yankton Habitat for Humanity board of directors and assisted in building several houses. After moving to Yankton in 1999, she was named construction supervisor for Habitat and oversaw the work of more homes being created by the organization.

Meanwhile, she continued her independent contracting work on the side.

“I got a double garage (when I moved to Yankton), so it evolved into me having more room to work and being able to build cabinets and such,” she said.

Freng was able to add the Mead Building to her resume when she became one of the first people to begin initial cleaning efforts as part of a project to restore the building and make it into a museum. Clean-up efforts during her seven years on the job included clearing trees off the roof and sweeping away dust and animal droppings.

In 2010, Freng began working for LCBHS as the on-site inspector when remodel work began on the organization’s newly purchased downtown apartment building, which has formerly been known as the Hotel Charles Gurney (among other names) and is also known as the place where Jack McCall was hanged for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok.

Much work had to be done renovate the facility, from reconfiguring the hallways to installing a sprinkler system. Freng oversaw it all and also learned additional building maintenance skills.

“I’d never worked in a building (on this level) until then,” she said. “I learned about fire systems, boilers and all the different monthly inspections of fire alarms.”

It took approximately two years to complete renovations on the complex, which now contains 34 apartment units and 12 offices to house LCBHS’s IMPACT program.

While the other workers left upon the project’s completion, Freng found herself staying around to oversee all of LCBHS’s existing buildings.

“I really evolved into it,” she said. “It works for me at my age since I’m no longer able to do the type of physical work that I did before.”

Her new job entailed learning the ins-and-outs of each of the buildings, which includes a lot of small details to remember.

Freng admits she sometimes has to be reminded to do things like changing a lightbulb, a task which can get lost in the bustle of a day’s work.

“I come to work thinking I have a plan for what my day is going to be, and it usually doesn’t pan out like that,” she said. “It depends on a lot of variables, from the weather to what disaster may have happened overnight.”

Her duties range from ordering toilet paper for the 116 toilets she’s in charge of to purchasing a car to be used by LCBHS members.

“I’m all over the place,” Freng remarked.

She is on call 24/7, including weekends, to deal with any emergencies that come up. The most recent ones involved two fire alarms being pulled within days of each other. Most often, Freng is called to let someone back into their unit after they’ve locked themselves out or to clean up after a water leak.

Due to LCBHS being a nonprofit, Freng occasionally receives assistance from trustees involving snow removal, mowing and painting. She also recently hired someone to assist her in her various duties.

Though her job keeps her busy and is laborious at times - she is currently working on installing 74 new windows at the main LCBHS offices - it is rewarding work.

“I make a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “To the best of my ability, I keep these apartments nice and clean for these people, who normally have ended up in some pretty bad spots. But between Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health, the case managers and myself, we provide a better life for a lot of people.”

She also praised LCBHS executive director Dr. Tom Stanage for providing her with good support over the years.

“If there’s something I need - like right now, I’m trying to get bids together to put up a security fence around the perimeter of the IMPACT building - he doesn’t tell me I can’t spend money,” she said. “If I think certain improvements are needed, he’s open to listening to me.”

Concerning her previous full-time profession, Freng stated she doesn’t so much miss doing tasks such as constructing decks and hanging up doors. What she misses is having the ability to do those things on her own.

“I’m no longer able to do that type of physical work,” she said, a bit wistfully. “But what I’m doing now works for me at my age.”

Looking back on her career, Freng knows she’s taken a non-traditional path, but has no regrets about it.

“My hope is that now and in the future, any girl or boy can choose the path that brings them joy, and that it becomes the norm and not the exception,” she said.