Effingham County High School teaching paraprofessional Denese Parker is retiring at the end of this school year, but she’s treating it as if it were another high school graduation.
“I keep telling everybody I’m graduating this year,” she said.
Parker didn’t have cap and gown pictures taken during her senior year at ECHS, so she had them done a few weeks ago. She has a T-shirt that says “Class of 2013.” She even went to Effingham County High’s prom last month.
“I had the most fun at the prom,” Parker said. “I got pictures with the kids, I got up there and danced with the kids, and I just had a ball.”
Parker was one of 27 retiring employees the Effingham County Board of Education honored in a ceremony Wednesday at the central office.
“Every one of these retirees played a very important role in our school district,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “It takes everybody to make our school system what it is.”
As part of Parker’s “graduation” celebration, ECHS Principal Yancy Ford presented her with a 2013 school yearbook, signed by several teachers she has worked with through the years. She said she cherished it more than the yearbooks from her high school years, because the pages are filled with “(her) kids,” the students at ECHS.
South Effingham Elementary Principal Susan Hartzog gave a tiara to kindergarten parapro Brenda King, who is affectionately called “Miss Queen” at SEES. King is one of four South Effingham Elementary retirees, along with teachers Heidi Cremo, Cynthia Exley and Peggy Padgett.
“How can we possibly condense over 100 years of teaching experience into one brief presentation?” Hartzog said.
Along with the 10 teachers and four parapros, several retirees were recognized for their contributions outside of the classroom. Bus drivers Eldora Thomas and Betty Jean Todd were thanked for their 58 combined years behind the wheel of county school buses, and Marlow Elementary cafeteria manager Martha Carter was called a “Marlow icon” by Principal Betty Jean Ferguson.
“It started in 1980, and little did she know that working with children would be part of her life for 33 years,” Ferguson said of Carter, who has been the manager for the past 18 of her 33 years in the MES cafeteria.
The final presentation of the day was for Ferguson. She began in the Effingham County School System in 1995 as a teacher at Ebenezer Elementary, and she has been Marlow’s principal for the past six years.
“The time is right,” Ferguson said. “People always told me, when it was time to retire, I would know. I didn’t believe that, but I did know.
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” Ferguson continued, “I’m going to miss everything about Marlow — everything about it. But I’m excited about what’s next. I don’t know what that is, but I’m excited about it.”
Ferguson said she does know that she and her husband Benny, who is retired, have “a trip planned every month, starting in June and going through October.” Their travels will include more-frequent visits with their two sons, who live in Texas.
“We can only hope that all of us can retire doing something we dearly love and cherish,” Shearouse said. “It’s certainly great going out on top when you still love what you do.”
Shearouse kidded Ferguson, telling a story of a visit he made to MES when “some of the kids asked her if I was her husband. And I quickly said she was my mother,” Shearouse said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
He got serious, though, and described Ferguson as “very dedicated to Marlow Elementary. I love to go to Marlow and visit Mrs. Ferguson. I always feel welcomed by that generous smile, and it’s just a place you feel like you want to go.”
Effingham County School System 2013 retirees
Julie Schwanebeck, parapro
Tarver Edwards, maintenance
Jane Parrish, teacher
Betty Jean Ferguson, principal
Martha Carter, lunchroom manager
Dianne Frawley, teacher
Lynn Grimes, teacher
Patricia Walters, teacher
South Effingham Elementary
Heidi Cremo, teacher
Cynthia Exley, teacher
Brenda King, parapro
Peggy Padgett, teacher
Karen Seckinger, teacher
Elizabeth Dean, lunchroom manager
Patricia McCall, teacher
Cheryl Tobey, counselor
Effingham County Middle
Michael Newell, teacher
Beverly Smithey, parapro
Effingham County High
Betty Griffin, lunchroom
Denese Parker, parapro
College and Career Academy
Lynette Walls, head custodian
Eldora Thomas, bus driver
Betty Jean Todd, bus driver
John Milton, lead preventive maintenance
Bobbie Ann Allen, early learning teacher support specialist
Gordon Riffel, coordinator of exceptional students
Catharine Weaver, assistant director for gifted students