FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Elsie Yoyokie has been helping people in need for years, but on Sept. 27 she retired from the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) as the North Region 2 program manager.
DES is responsible for helping people with food stamps, cash assistance and medical assistance. DES helps Arizona residents with applications for Arizona health care programs. The programs are based on federal guidelines for income.
Her staff gave her a going away party and she was thrilled that they did that.
“I want to thank my staff for the celebration for my retirement. It’s getting me off in the right way,” she said. “I was fortunate to give that many years to the state, and it was fast.”
DES is advertising for the regional manager job opening, but has not hired anyone yet.
Yoyokie is Navajo, but lives on the Hopi Reservation with her renowned artist husband Gary Yoyokie. They will be married 50 years next year.
As regional manager, Yoyokie was responsible for the DES offices in Tuba City, Kayenta, Chinle and Window Rock. She was responsible for supervising about 200 employees.
Yoyokie was proud that as part of her job she met Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the late Sen. John McCain and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
Yoyokie started as a case worker for DES in 1981 in Kayenta. She was needed on Hopi at that time to speak to clients who lived on Hopi, but only spoke Navajo.
Yoyokie said she likes helping clients because she can relate to them.
She was raised by her grandparents because her parents worked off the reservation.
“I went to boarding school where I dealt with people who didn’t have anything,” she said.
Yoyokie is bilingual as she speaks Navajo and English.
Yoyokie recently made a video about her work called “It’s not Just a Job.”
After working six years as a caseworker, Yoyokie was promoted to become an administrator where her jobs were at various times auditor, trainer, supervisor and regional manager.
“I made sure that people didn’t have to wait too long and that everything was done properly. I was concerned about good customer service,” she said. “I wanted to resolve any problems.”
Since becoming a regional manager, Yoyokie has had to take monthly courses on management and leadership. She learned that appointments often didn’t work because the previous people would always take longer so she tells people to just come in.
At one time, she was responsible for 20 offices including those in Flagstaff, Kingman and White River.
“It was too stressful. I would come home about four days a month,” she said. “But as long as the offices had what they needed, the stress was lowered.”
Yoyokie graduated from Phoenix Indian High School before taking up nursing.
“I found out I was not cut out for nursing. I went to Albuquerque to watch a heart surgery. When the blood squirted out I passed out. I would also pass out during flu shots,” she said.
So, Yoyokie majored in accounting at Northland Pioneer College before going to work for DES.
Yoyokie was born in a military hospital at Bellemont.
Yoyokie has been going to art shows with husband Gary since the 1970s and she does some of the silversmith work as well.
“Now that I’m retired I can do more of the silversmith art shows with my husband,” she said. “We go all over the state with our art work.”
The silversmith work has also taken them to Japan three times.
“The Japanese appreciate the Hopi overlay jewelry because it also relates to their culture,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of friends from Japan.”
Her father was a Navajo Codetalker. He died on Veteran’s Day, but before that he gave her his medals.