School receptionist says goodbye after 37 years
By Kim Howard
Williston Central School receptionist Mavis Tremblay was not at her post Monday morning as children streamed into school from Thanksgiving vacation.
Still, the front office was hopping.
The phone rang. The bus radio chirped. A parent asked what to do with a check for an after-school program.
Administrative assistant Cid Gause, filling in, had to ask the parent to wait a moment.
“You’ve got the amateur on duty here,” Gause said with a smile. “I’m not as fast as Mavis.”
Though “Mavis” – as she is called by adults and children alike – returned to school later Monday, she will not return next fall. After a 37-year career at Williston Central School, Tremblay – who turns 68 on Saturday – will retire in June.
“One of the hardest things that I’m doing is to walk away from something I love so much,” Tremblay said Tuesday at her desk, starting to cry. “I love my job so much; it’s never a chore to go. I wish I’d quit crying.”
It might be hard to see how Tremblay would miss what can appear to an outsider as organized chaos.
Tuesday morning a car seat and canned goods for the food drive are dropped off. Multiple students bring in permission slips for the activity bus. The phone rings. It rings again.
Over the bus radio comes a voice: “I’m dropping off, Mavis.”
“Thank you,” she radios back.
Eight students stream in for late passes; Tremblay tells the first half they can make it on time if they go straight to class.
“We’re going to be in really big trouble when you go,” bus driver Christine Palin says to her, noting Tremblay is called the “bus mom.”
“She’s our life line,” bus driver Bob Lemons adds. “Whenever we get in trouble, we call Mavis. She gets it straightened out.”
Tremblay’s long relationship with Williston Central School began in 1969, just months after moving from Alabama. Volunteering at the polls the month after arriving in town, Tremblay always talked to the kids, she said. Ward Johnson, who also was working the polls, asked her if she’d ever considered working in a school.
By January, she was working in the cafeteria. Later she became a teacher’s assistant and helped in the office. She’s helped in various capacities – volunteer and paid – ever since. Tremblay isn’t sure exactly how long she’s been the main receptionist, but knows it’s been at least 15 years.
The school has changed enormously in the time she’s worked there. She started when enrollment was about 450 students, she said; now 1,180 students fill two schools. She’s watched kindergarteners become eighth graders and then watched them graduate from high school. She’s attended some of their college graduations. Some of the children she’s watched grow up now have children of their own.
One of her hardest moments on the job, she said, was learning that a boy she’d known since kindergarten committed suicide in high school. Her best moments have been watching struggling kids turn around and do well.
“I always wanted to be a teacher; that’s one thing I always regretted I didn’t do,” Tremblay said.
Tremblay lived on her own starting at 15 after her parents divorced, she said. She had to work, and didn’t finish high school immediately, though she eventually got her diploma. She married and had five kids, who now range from 36 to 45. She was a bookkeeper for a time (“numbers stay with me,” she says) before working in school.
She loves sports, and was an avid volleyball and softball player; she played shortstop in high school and, later in life, outfield on a traveling semi-professional team in Florida. Her semi-pro team went to the world tournament three years in a row, finishing second every year. Though she loves to read, she said she hasn’t had much time.
Soon she will. After retiring, she and her husband plan to spend part of the year in her home state of Alabama, and part of the year in Vermont. She plans to volunteer with kids. And she plans to spend quality time with her husband, who she said is her most prized possession.
A friend of theirs used to kid Tremblay that she’d have to be removed from the school on a stretcher because she is so dedicated to her job; he told her she should leave while she was young and could still do things, Tremblay said. That friend died in May. That was when Tremblay decided he was right.
Parents should know, Tremblay said, how much she has “loved being part of their kids lives.” Many parents and staff alike have become dear friends, she said.
She’ll miss moments with the students, too. As students knock on the giant windows separating her office from the hallway, they smile and wave. Some come into the office.
“Mavis!” Sophie, a kindergartener, shouts Tuesday morning, running in to hug Tremblay.
“She does that every day,” Tremblay says after Sophie leaves, explaining she’s her husband’s cousin’s “little girl.”
When Sophie’s kindergarten classmates line up in the hallway to leave school every day, Tremblay adds, they all blow her a kiss.