Memories are stirring up about two outstanding secretaries who made a difference while I was going to school in the 1960s and 1970s.
When we think about high school, there’s likely a favorite teacher that comes to mind. Sometimes, our memories recall an administrator or guidance counselor who made a difference.
But for the graduates who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at my high school, there may be some special memories attached to two very special women.
They made the announcements in the morning, wrote out hall passes when necessary, or tended to unique problems that came about with students, their parents, and the faculty.
They would help keep bus routes on schedule, track down an administrator who was needed immediately in the school auditorium and ran an office with all the associated functions.
They were school secretaries. That’s what we called them back in the 1960s and 1970s. They are known today as administrative assistants or similar titles that reflect their level of responsibility.
At my alma mater South Lewis in upstate New York, Christine Chaufty retired at the end of the school year.
She graduated from the school in 1971, and then went to work there as a secretary. With forty-seven years on the job, combined with six years in junior high and high school, she’s been part of South Lewis Junior/Senior High for fifty-three years.
She was interviewed by the local paper in a story recognizing her service to the students at South Lewis. Her secret to success was very simple.
She told reporter Jamie Cook, “I have always liked how people worked together here. It is one very large family here.”
Christine stayed in her hometown because she loved her life there. She remained on the job at South Lewis because she cared about the students, her coworkers, and the school itself.
She told the Watertown Daily Times, “I live and breathe South Lewis and I have always been happy here.”
Christine had many people to show her the ropes more than forty years ago. Among them was Mrs. Laura Mekkelson, a school principal secretary who worked for the elementary and secondary schools I attended.
Mrs. Mekkelson, as I always called her, started her career at Port Leyden Central School long before I entered kindergarten. When the school merged into the larger South Lewis district in 1967, she continued her work there until her retirement.
Mrs. Mekkelson passed away in June at the age of 96. Her family made sure her obituary announcement captured the kind of person she was.
She went to a business school after high school graduation. She worked for the Ration Board during World War II.
Her working career missed a full inclusion within the computer age, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a master at her own computer that she bought when she was seventy. She was skilled at spreadsheets and applied those skills to a number of volunteer activities.
Non-profit organizations appreciated her time and many credits her with bringing their organizations into the computer age.
Her children and grandchildren looked forward to her emails. She did genealogy research, historical searches, and would often go online just to find an answer to a question that had been tugging at her.
Her obituary also described how much she was respected and loved by the students at the two schools where she served.
The words sweet, compassionate, and understanding are used to describe how she was regarded by the students she knew from her forty-plus years of work as a principal’s secretary.
I spoke with Mrs. Mekkelson several years ago after delivering a copy of one of my books to her home. She was a very special person.
Graduating seniors will leave their high school days with a diploma in hand, and memories of friends and teachers.
At my high school, this year’s class will remember Christine as a dynamic person who led by her example of enthusiasm for the job and the people who make the job special.
For alumni like me, we’ll appreciate Christine for those same reasons.
And we’ll call to mind another school secretary who loved her job, was respected by students, contributed her talent to her community, and was adored by her family.
Mrs. Mekkelson’s life of purpose will be remembered by all who knew her.
Both women made an impact on thousands of people at the schools where they worked.