“Pam Clark and I had very similar lives growing up,” said Cheryl Conner, Administrative Assistant for Garrett Primary, of the district’s Payroll/Benefits Supervisor. She said, “Her dad and my dad worked at the phone company in Fairfield. It was her dad that called my dad to come to Lufkin in 1957/1958 to work at the phone company. Our parents went to Denman Avenue Baptist Church beginning in 1958.”
The two grew up together in the phone company world, graduated from Lufkin High School, went to the same church and have a propensity for numbers.
“I was kinda shy in high school. I liked office work. I was in Ms. Allen’s accounting class and my typing teacher was Ms. Collmorgen,” she said.
Enjoying office work has prepared her for the day-to-day operations at the only 4-K campus in the district, home of the Garrett Cowboys, where Ms. Conner has worked for the past fourteen years. The campus houses 346 pre-K 4 students.
“ I’m the secretary/administrative assistant. I do payroll, purchase orders, work the sub system, fill in where I’m needed,” she said.
Sometimes where she’s needed is loving on the little ones.
“What can you not like about pre-school!?! People will say ‘Oh look how cute they are’ but they have the same issues as other kids but they’re just smaller. They make you laugh. The hardest thing is when CPS comes to visit. These kids see things you won’t see in your whole lifetime,” she said.
Sometimes the 4K students come to Garrett Primary for their first “school” experience.
She said, “It’s amazing to see what kids learn, how independent they become. They get out of the car by themselves and come to their classroom. They learn so much. They become independent especially the bilingual students who don’t know any English and then they leave speaking English better than I do.”
According to Ms. Conner, four-year-olds can absolutely make your day. She tells the story of one little boy who came to read her a book and how she didn’t have the heart to tell him the book was upside down.
Ms. Conner says that she lives by faith and that the true test of that faith is when something happens. The day when her 29-year-old brother died from falling from a telephone pole was a day that faith was tested. Her dad and brother both worked for the phone company and her dad was the one who heard the accident radioed in.
“He had just gotten married on July 14th and on September 19th, he fell off a telephone pole. He was taken to Houston where he was pronounced dead.”
She said that his wife had children from a previous marriage and that her kids are like nieces and nephews to the family. She and her kids spend Christmas and holidays with their family even though she was with Ms. Conner’s brother only a short time.
Ms. Conner lives a life of thankfulness and feels very blessed to work at Lufkin ISD after spending a long time working in retail.
She said, “I worked 24 years at JCPenney in corporate America. I thought I would retire there. That changed when my dad called one day and said ‘I don’t feel good’. His health started to decline, and I was working six days a week. I didn’t realize how much you could work. I was an only child then, too.”
Ms. Conner’s mom worked 17 years as a cafeteria monitor for principal Mr. Pablo Torres at Coston Elementary. Her mother told her about a job she had heard about at Garrett Primary.
“She called and said they had a job here. I talked to Mr. Giles and Mrs. Kegler. I hadn’t told JCPenney’s yet. God intervened. It was the best decision I ever made. With the time off, I could spend taking care of my parents,” she said.
When she first started at Garrett Primary, the PACE kindergarten students were housed there. She enjoys seeing how the students who were on the campus 14 years ago have turned out.
She said, “I like to see in the paper maybe a football player that went to our school. You like to see them succeed. “
Ms. Conner arrives at the campus at 7:00 a.m. and the doors open at 7:15 a.m. She fills in where needed and starts checking over the sub system to make sure all of the teachers are in place for the day. Although she makes her lunch every day, she doesn’t claim to be a good cook like her grandmother.
She said, “My grandmother could cook. She was a cook at Woodland Heights when people would just stop by for Sunday lunch even though they weren’t visiting anyone in the hospital. There were no restrictions back then. I grew up with good cooking.”
Ms. Conner enjoys a good John Grisham book and loves the legal world and even considered being a paralegal at one time. She went to Angelina College in her 30’s. She worked so much, she didn’t have much time for anything else. She received an Associate’s degree but said she took enough classes for a four-year degree.
The one thing that Ms. Conner loves to do is travel. She would like to accomplish visiting all 50 states.
“All I need is the East Coast and Alaska,” she said.
She said her family had a tradition of going to Branson, Missouri every year. She now loves being at a job where she can put her family first.
Thank you, Ms. Conner, for your sweet spirit to tend to some of our youngest students, even when the payroll is due. You take time for what’s most important, and it shows.