Kay Pesnell has worked in the Douglas County Register of Deeds office for three decades. She was hired in 1990 as a recording clerk, became Deputy Register of Deeds in 2001, and in July 2002 was appointed Register of Deeds after the retirement of Sue Neustifter. She has been re-elected every four years since then. “I’ve always liked the job because it has a lot of variety to it,” she said.
As the Register of Deeds, she oversees six full-time employees and an annual budget of $408,000. The office is responsible for keeping a record of who owns what property in Douglas County. It preserves all records concerning the county’s 40,980 parcels of land, including deeds, mortgages, maps and subdivision plats and other documents pertaining to real estate. Staff also ensure that documents are recorded properly.
The records are used when someone buys or sells a property to verify the owner and that it is free of any liens. City, state and federal offices also use the records to determine where to place utility lines, to determine land usage plans and more.
Additionally, the Register of Deeds office helps residents with recording of documents, investigations and requests of documents, and the recording of military discharge papers for honored veterans.
“The majority of our work is with title companies, bankers and attorneys, but we also have residents who want to know if something has been recorded on their property or they may want to search a property themselves for past owners,” she said.
Property changes happen for a variety of reasons, including: moving, death of owner, desire to divide property, or development of new land. When land is platted, it goes through a number of offices before it is signed and approved by the Register of Deeds office. “We’re kind of the last stop. We make sure they have all of the signatures needed and the legal description is correct,” she said.
Pesnell has three goals for the Register of Deeds office: maintain accurate land records, provide prompt and courteous services to the public, and upgrade technology as needed. In January 2019, staff introduced Amazon’s Alexa. It is programmed to answer 50 custom questions and is available to the public in the Register of Deeds office, which is located on the third floor of the County Courthouse.
“I have a lot of pride in that we keep things up to date as far as technology,” she said. “We like to know that our technology is good and we are keeping up with the latest trends as far as recording information. A lot of people want to search online, so most of our documents are online.”
When Pesnell started, she said everything was written by hand and they fielded a lot more phone calls and office visits. “Now that we have so much information online, we don’t see as many people face-to face because they can find the information on their own,” she said.
Today, they maintain a double system of keeping records online and in books.
“There’s a lot of history in this office,” Pesnell said recently, as she flipped through a large book of land records that’s located in the back room of the Register of Deeds office.
The computer records go back to 1855, when Douglas County was established. The written records go back to 1917. The Register of Deeds Office also has school records from 1898 to 1957. They have older maps that show areas of Douglas County and what the property used to look like.
Pesnell assists people who are working on their genealogy. “They can look for grantee or grantor information to see if relatives had any land in Douglas County. It’s a tedious job, but they can do it if they want to,” she said. One time the Douglas County Genealogy Society visited the office and she showed them the various books and computer systems they could search through.
The Register of Deeds office also stores film of every page of every document in the Underground Vaults and Storage, a salt mine facility in Hutchinson. Film is required by Kansas law. Pesnell said they used to take their own photos, develop them in a dark room and then send them to the salt mine. Now, a company is hired for the film work, but staff ensure the information is correct before it is sent to the salt mine.
Pesnell grew up in Eudora where she graduated from high school. She then attended two years of college at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, Mo. She then worked at various jobs, including the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant until it closed and as an insurance agent.
Pesnell said she applied to work in the Register of Deeds office after a tip from a friend who knew about the job opening. She applied because she was interested in working with property and she liked helping people. “You really can’t train to work in the Register of Deeds office,” she said. “It’s a hands-on training and it takes about a year to really feel comfortable with the job.”
Pesnell believes her 12 years of experience as a recording clerk helped prepare her for becoming the Register of Deeds. “I never intended to be the boss,” she said. “I’ve always just really enjoyed the work.”
Trecia Goodrick, Recording Clerk II, has worked in the Register of Deeds office for 20 years. She described Kay as a joy to work with. Goodrick said when she first started working in the office, she recalled her co-workers wanting to have a movie night. She said Pesnell quickly volunteered to host it. “We had a fun evening. It was the first of many evenings that Kay invited us to her home for fabulous meals, fun and camaraderie.”
Deputy Register of Deeds Kent Brown said Pesnell has been an excellent mentor. “She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty from daily work to cleaning carpets. Douglas County is fortunate to have her.”
Pesnell is a member of the Kansas Register of Deeds Association. She said when she compares Douglas County to other counties, she’s right where she wants to be. “It seems like we work well together and the offices and the commissioners want what is best for Douglas County.”
For more information about the Register of Deeds office or to search properties or real estate records, visit: https://www.douglascountyks.org/depts/register-of-deeds.
* Story written by Communications Specialist Karrey Britt