"They've been good years."
For 30 years, Mrs. Kay Wagner has been the first friendly face that students, staff, and families see when they walk through the doors of Kingsley Middle School.
This will be her final school year in the front office as she plans to retire in June 2023.
"I have, kind of, mixed feelings, because I've been here so long, and it's like part of my family," she said.
Mrs. Wagner has become family to many in the district over the years, serving students as a librarian, reading aide, and secretary since starting with the schools 43 years ago.
"I started in 1978. The superintendent came in and said, 'you're going to be the elementary librarian.' And I argued with him and told him I didn't have any training. Well, I took a class up at the college and I took a class through the state of Michigan for the Library Association, and I got the library background," said Mrs. Wagner. "Then one day, the superintendent came into the library while I was reading to the small children and he said 'Hmm, see, I told you, you could do it!' and he walked out."
Over the years, Mrs. Wagner has seen the district grow from a one-building campus to a class B school system with 1,500 students.
She says this time feels right to move on to her next chapter.
"I have three children, and they all live out of state. Two of them have brand new homes and I'd like to visit them. I think they were probably my biggest concern," said Mrs. Wagner. "I don't know what retirement will look like, exactly, it's kind of up in the air. So I just take each day at a time."
"I think I would like to go and read books or help somebody read, like a mentor. Yeah. I would like to go out there and volunteer."
In the past few weeks, staff and students have decorated her office with balloons and signs like "500 students for 43 years equals A LOT of mints and band-aids!"
"I think my favorite part of the job is watching these kids grow from adolescence to young people that are ready to go on to high school. Very nice," said Mrs. Wagner. "This age group...they're halfway between wanting to be babies to being adults. It's a challenge."
Day In Day Out
As the secretary, Mrs. Wagner serves many roles: administrative assistant, attendance line, pupil counting, and immunization compliance through the state.
Unofficially, Mrs. Wagner also serves as the makeshift nurse and counselor to heal boo-boos and offer a listening ear.
"I'll answer the phone and take care of bloody noses, I've had a couple of broken arms, and then the phone rings while you're trying to do that, and meanwhile you've got somebody in front of you looking at you in the face that you need to get back to," said Mrs. Wagner.
"I guess I've been here so long that I can answer the phone and give out medicine and write excuses for kids and be able to handle all of it at once."
"I don't think the community realizes all the things I do. Because there's a lot of kids that come in in the morning and they got a heavy heart or something like that. And I've had a lot of people come in and tell me things that they probably shouldn't. But I always have a listening ear."
She says the school and its staff have also helped her through difficult times.
"I lost my husband a couple of years ago and I think that's probably what's kept me afloat, was I had like almost like a second family here," she said. "Now, I'm going to run our farm just like he would want me to do."
Mrs. Wagner will officially retire on June 30.
From everyone at Kingsley Area Schools, past and present, THANK YOU, Mrs. Wagner!