August 27, 2014 By Karpf
By Carol Murphy
Irene Shields has retired as secretary from the Mitchell Elementary School, after 46½ years. She and her husband Dale bought a home in Mitchell in 1967. Just six months after they moved here, he was killed in a tragic accident while unloading a truckload of tires for West Nebraska Express in Torrington, leaving her with two small children.
The community of Mitchell helped Irene in many ways after the death of her husband. Superintendent A. G. Peterson gave her a job typing the North Central Evaluation reports. She also became the playground supervisor every day at noon. Then in 1968, Superintendent Vern Lewellen hired her as the secretary. She was the very first secretary for Mitchell Elementary School. Her job description just grew from there. Besides her secretarial job, she has helped with many other duties through the years, including serving as librarian, sponsoring the Pep Club with Linda Hilyard for 10 years, which included running the concession stand. She has been the recess lady, worked in the cafeteria when needed, helped with the cheerleaders and held a class for “English as a second language” for two years.
The last few years, her favorite activity has been helping our Veterans with a special Veterans Day Program in November when children in all grade levels pay tribute to Veterans. “We decorate, have special music, guest speakers and serve our Veterans lunch in the cafeteria. The whole community turns out for this special day. This one event is what I’m most proud of accomplishing,” said Irene.
Irene has seen a lot of changes. She said, “They went from manual typewriters to computers, now they have laptops. Each room has an intercom phone system and separate modulars were added to house the Title reading program, music department and computer lab. New heating and air conditioning and a better sound system in the gym were put in, along with repairs done throughout the various buildings. A new brick building, which houses the 4th through 6th grade, was built in 2006. They also added the Tiger Pre-School and a play area for them in 2007. These are just a few of the improvements I can remember off the top of my head.”
Irene’s favorite place at the elementary is the reading park located between the old school building and the new building. It has planters, trees and tables and is very nice. They hold a few classes there and have special activities in this area. She said, “Counselor Paul Edens doesn’t get enough credit for all the work he has done on this park. It’s a great place to just sit and relax.” The bench dedicated to Irene in this area is very nice, and will be around for a lot of students to enjoy for a long time.
Over the years, Irene has worked for six different Superintendents, A. G. Peterson, Vern Lewellen, J. Bartek, Randy Zitterkopf, Don Wagner and Kent Halley. There were also several interim Superintendents after Bartek left and after Zitterkopf resigned in 1991. She also worked under six principals, including A. G. Peterson, Frank Frailey, Barry Limoges, Darlene Darbro, Mike Mason and Kirk Kuxhausen. She said she registered Kirk for kindergarten in 1968.
Kirk said, “She’s an icon at our school. I know we will miss her tremendously. She’s a very compassionate person, caring about each child at our school. There will never be another Irene.” Ronda Reuter, also a secretary at the school said, “Irene’s been great to work with, we’ve enjoyed our years at the school together.”
Irene said that she has hated the idea of retirement. “The decision to retire has been very hard for me. I’ll miss all these kids. They have been my life. I get to see them go through school and grow up. Then many come back to visit and bring their families. I’m so proud of them and I know our school has played a big part in their success. I’m a true blue Tiger fan all the way,” said Irene.
One bright spot for Irene is that she still plans to take care of the box top and Campbell’s Soup label program. Through the years, this has raised a lot of money for special things at the school. Irene collects, sorts and meets deadlines in getting them mailed in for redemption, and this project will help keep her involved with the school.