Bonnie Gokey could tell you a thing or two about the evolution of education. She’s been in the front office of Alto Elementary School for 50 years. During her tenure, Gokey has seen the school go through two additions, eight principals and the computer revolution. Now, the much beloved school secretary is getting ready to retire, and two government officials paid her a visit on Monday to present a legislative tribute recognizing her many years of service.
“We’ve been meaning to do this for a while for Bonnie,” says Lisa Posthumus Lyons, the former state representative for the 86th District and current Kent County Clerk. Posthumus Lyons notes Gokey was secretary when she attended Alto Elementary and has been someone to lean on as her children moved through the school as well.
Joining her was State Senator Dave Hildenbrand – who also has family connections to the school – Lowell Area Schools Superintendent Greg Pratt and Nate Fowler, the Director of Curriculum for the district. “There can’t be a lot of 50-year school employees out there,” Hildenbrand said as those gathered reflected on Gokey’s impressive service record.
Witnessing 50 Years of Change
Gokey’s path to becoming a school secretary was much different than what people might experience today. She was a senior in high school when she began working part-time in the office as part of an on-the-job training program. “At that time, it was just Alto and the Runciman Building,” she recalls. Gokey would spend a couple hours working at Alto and then attend classes the rest of the day.
The school was so impressed by her ability and work ethic, they asked her to stay on after her graduation. It wasn’t something she needed to consider very long, calling the offer “a great opportunity.” In August 1967, she began working full-time and never looked back.
“I just love my students,” Gokey says. “They’re my family away from home.”
As a 50-year veteran, she’s had a front-row view of the changing face of the school. While additions expanded its size, the technology changes were the most dramatic. “We never dreamed of a computer,” she says. Gokey remembers churning out dittos by hand before technology made it simple to provide whatever teachers needed. “I’ve watched how everything has changed.”
Doing it All With a Smile
Paul Papes has been two years on the job as principal of Alto Elementary and has nothing but good things to say about Gokey. “She has a true commitment and dedication to our students and this community as a whole,” he says.
Gokey moves seamlessly between tasks. She might be helping a hurt student one minute, answering a parent question the next and then moving on to assist a teacher. Papes calls her a team player, and one who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty. If a student or family needs additional help, Gokey may go to other agencies and organizations to find the necessary resources.
After 50 years on the job, Gokey is still as enthusiastic about her work as she was on the day she started. As Papes says, “She does it all, and she does it all with a smile on her face.”