1,100 years of experience gone home

Published 12:04 pm Friday, June 1, 2012

Pearl Smith has been traveling the roads of Warren County driving kids to school for 45 years, but as she retires from the Vicksburg Warren School District, travel is still on her mind.

“Illinois is probably going to be my first stop,” said Smith, the longest serving school employee feted at Thursday afternoon’s retirement ceremony. “I have a brother who lives in Aurora.”

Smith said she also plans to garden and doesn’t expect to feel a pang when the buses start rolling again in August. “By then I will have gotten used to it.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“She raised four kids who rode on her bus,” said her daughter, Arlean Smith, a longtime VWSD veteran herself with 26 years as a special education teacher at Warren Central High School. “She took that job so she could be with us — keep an eye on us, spend holidays and vacations with us — but she stayed 45 years, and that’s a big deal.”

The district said goodbye to 46 employees with an average of 24 years of service. Thursday’s ceremony honored teachers and bus drivers, cooks and administrators who together had logged 1,100 years with the schools.

“You are leaving a legacy for us to fill and difficult shoes for us to walk in,” said Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, superintendent. “Each of you has made a difference in the lives of each of us, your fellow employees, and in the lives of the students and their families.”

Bryan Pratt, president of the VWSD Board of Trustees, thanked the retirees for their service and called them “special people” in the lives of the district’s nearly 9,000 students.

“I hope the next chapter in your life is as rewarding as this one has been,” Pratt said.

Among those retiring was Debra Hullum, a Warren County native and former teacher who rose to assistant superintendent of operations in her 25½-year career with the district.

Hullum was not present at the ceremony, but Swinford praised her contributions.

“Anybody who knows Ms. Hullum knows that anything she is asked to do she does well,” Swinford said. “She has been a pillar of this community and this school system… She was the best right hand to have.”

Principals and department heads took turns announcing the retirees for their areas, among them transportation manager David Keen, himself retiring after nearly 10 years with the district.

Keen gave credit to his employees, saying they were the ones responsible for the smooth running of bus routes.

“I was blessed to get put in the transportation department with such fine people,” he said.

Grove Street Principal Lee Dixon offered his three retirees a proposition undoubtedly shared by all administrators: “Grove’s doors are still open and if at any time boredom sets in, feel free to come by and assist.”

This year’s total of 46, some of whom retired last summer and during the school year, represent about 3.5 percent of the budgeted 1,278 employees in the district.

In 2011, 47 teachers and staff members retired, about 3.7 percent of the total, and in 2010, 58 employees, or 4.3 percent, retired.