For 30½ years, Sonja Guffey has served as the secretary at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour.
And if she could do it all over again, she would — because that’s how much she has loved her job.
All of the smiles and greetings she receives each morning from the students coming through the doors make every day worth it, she said.
That’s why the idea of retiring didn’t come easy to Guffey, but it’s a decision she said it was time to make.
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Guffey, 66, only has a couple of more weeks left at the front desk at Emerson.
She started the job back in 1987, a time when she remembers hand cranking a Ditto machine to make copies of worksheets and other documents for teachers.
“We only had one computer in the whole school, one of those old Apple computers that was big and the screen was bright blue,” she said. “It was basically just to type in student information.”
Phones also were limited, and all three were located in the office, she said. Nowadays, there is a phone in each room, and all of the teachers and even many students have their own cellphones.
As secretary, she also tutored Title I students for seven years, she said.
Unlike some employees who move to different schools as is needed, Guffey has been a fixture at Emerson. She started as a part-time secretary working four hours a day when her son, Jon, was in third grade at the school.
They only lived a block away from Emerson, so it was a convenient place to work, she said.
“I didn’t have to get a babysitter,” she said.
But Guffey quickly found out she was a perfect fit as secretary and eventually was hired on full time.
“I just fell in love with the school, with the students, with the staff, the whole atmosphere around here, and I didn’t want to do anything else,” she said.
Emerson is not only Guffey’s place of employment but has been and will continue to be, even after retirement, her family.
When she battled cancer years ago, the school community, including teachers, staff, students and their families, rallied around her, conducting fundraisers and showing an outpouring of love and support she said she will never forget.
They did the same when her husband, Randy, became ill.
“And we continue to do that for each other,” Guffey said of how those at Emerson take care of each other.
One of the benefits of being in the same position at the same school for so long is that you get to know different generations of a family.
“The kids that were here when I started, they now have kids here,” she said. “And since I became acquainted with their parents when they were here, I know three generations of some families. And it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
She’s thankful for all of the friendships she has developed over the past three decades.
“I’ve met so many nice people in this job, just wonderful, giving people and probably in some other line of work, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said. “It just warms my heart to think about it.”
Even though she has made her retirement official with Seymour Community School Corp., she’s really not sure she’s ready to leave.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years, and I know it’s going to have to happen at some point,” she said. “Last year, I told myself I was going to go one more year, but I’m still not sure if I’m doing the right thing.”
But when she realized she was older than the volunteers in the foster grandparent program, she said it was a wake-up call.
Guffey still plans to do some part-time work somewhere. She’s just not sure what or where that will be.
“I don’t call it retirement. I call it realigning,” she said. “I’m realigning myself because I don’t want to retire and not do anything. I don’t want to become a hermit, and I have to feel like I’m doing something constructive.”
And of course, retirement frees up time to spend with her grandchildren, Josiah Rigsby, 19, Jacob Guffey, 13, and Savi Guffey, who is finishing up first grade at Emerson. Both Josiah and Jacob also went to Emerson.
“Hopefully, I won’t be as exhausted when they come over,” she said.
But she will still miss the excitement of the school days, which she likens to riding a roller coaster.
“That’s part of the reason I’ve loved it so much,” she said. “You come in and you have to grab onto the handlebars and hold on for all it’s worth because you never know what’s going to happen in elementary school.”
Guffey has worked under four different principals — Gary Gilbert, Lisa Ferguson, Talmadge Reasoner and most recently, Julie Kelly.
They have shared many laughs, tears and frustrations over the years, she said.
“They’ve just all been phenomenal,” she said. “That’s another reason the job has been so enjoyable because I’ve had such great people to work for. I’ve been very blessed to have had such great bosses.”
Guffey said she will miss the challenge of getting everything done during the school day with students and teachers coming in and out of the office needing her, too.
Having been at Emerson longer than any of the current staff, Guffey said she has enjoyed being the historian of the school.
“I’ve been through two of the remodels of the building,” she said. “I remember back when they tore the majority of the building down and the kids went to school at First Baptist Church for a year and a half. That was back in 1988.”
Guffey said she has an interest in keeping the history of the school alive.
She considers herself a small part of that history.
“For 50 years of my life, I have lived where I can see Emerson school from my front door,” she said. “It’s always been there.”
Originally from Lawrence County, Guffey moved to Seymour when she was in middle school.
“We lived right across the street from the front doors of the old part of the building,” she said. “And then later on in life, I got married, and we bought a house just around the corner.”
That’s why she doesn’t think she’ll be able to stay away from the school for long.
“I still plan to be active around here,” she said. “I may be subbing when they need extra help, and I’ll volunteer definitely, so I’ll be around. This is my family and my second home.”
And she can’t imagine not coming back to see the students.
“Those little ones, your heart just bursts when they come in and they smile at you,” she said. “I have several that come in every morning and give me a hug. The kids make me laugh, and they give me energy, and they give me hope.”
For the last 30½ years, Guffey has loved coming to work every day.
“I don’t know how many people can say that,” she said. “It can be stressful and hectic and chaotic, but there’s not a day that I haven’t loved coming here, and I don’t think I would have said that about anything else I could have done. If I could go back 30 years and start all over again, I would do it. I would sign up for 30 more years.”
Seymour Community School Corp. 2017 retirees
Elizabeth Blair, Seymour High School custodian, 23 years
Kathi Hackney, special education instructional assistant at Seymour-Redding Elementary, 25½ years
Debbie Clifford, special education teacher at SHS, 26 years
Alberta Tormoehlen, bus driver, 43 years
JoEllen Robinson, special education instructional assistant at Emerson, 21 years
Mary Smith, special education teacher at Margaret R. Brown Elementary, 37 years
Sonja Guffey, administrative assistant at Emerson Elementary, 30½ years
Tamyra Pinaire, teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary, 25 years
Janet Schaeffer, study hall monitor at SHS, 14½ years
Geoff Mahl, alternative education teacher at SHS and the Jackson County Learning Center, 33 years
Cheryl Stark, custodian at Seymour Middle School, 17 years
George Mellencamp, bus driver, 20 years
What: Retirement open house for Sonja Guffey, secretary at Emerson Elementary School for 30½ years
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Emerson Elementary School gymnasium, 500 Emerson Drive, Seymour