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After 54 years, school secretary says it's time for a change

| Friday, June 18, 2004

After more than half a century of sitting behind her desk, Gloria Hillberry is calling it quits.

Hillberry, a resident of West Franklin Township, began her career as a secretary in 1950 at the Worthington-West Franklin school, which accommodated both elementary and high school students.

When the Armstrong School District moved the elementary school to the current West Hills location in 1973, Hillberry remained at Worthington High School until its closing in 1984. She has spent the last 20 years of her career at West Hills Elementary.

"I've always enjoyed my work," Hillberry said. "But I've decided it's time for a change."

Hillberry's retirement begins June 30, but after today she will expend her remaining vacation days until the end of the month.

"It has gone so fast. It's unbelievable," Hillberry said.

Hillberry said that her relationships with coworkers, students and parents have made the past 54 years much easier.

"I like being around people," Hillberry said. "These are very good people to work with, and there are nice kids here."

One thing Hillberry recently found out is just how much those teachers and students appreciate her.

"I just wanted to retire and leave quietly," Hillberry said. "But there have been so many cards and gifts."

During a June 10 awards assembly in the school's gymnasium, eight fifth-grade students gave speeches in honor of the retiring secretary.

Third-grade teacher Linda Smeltzer said that one of the students broke into tears after he had given his speech.

"She had a tremendous relationship with the kids," Smeltzer said.

Smeltzer, who has taught at West Hills since the school's opening, has seen Hillberry nearly every day of work for the past 20 years.

"It'll be strange not seeing her," Smeltzer said. "I'll miss her smile."

In the past few weeks, faculty members at West Hills made a quilt for Hillberry. Each grade level at the school crafted a section of the quilt, and the faculty presented it to her on June 11.

"It's something I'll always treasure," Hillberry said, noting that the gift was a complete surprise. "I really appreciate them. I don't know how to express it."

Hillberry said she has no definite plans yet for retirement but is glad that she'll have more time for her garden and her church. She is a Sunday school teacher and junior church director at Franklin Union Baptist Church in Worthington.

"She has a wonderful personality," Smeltzer said. "She's a very friendly person."

Though she is looking forward to her retirement, Hillberry admitted that leaving the job she has been doing for more than 50 years won't be easy.

"I've worked all my life. I'm sure I'll miss it for a while," she said. "I'm kind of excited, but I'm going to miss everybody. It'll be difficult."

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