Longtime Triad High School secretary Bettijo Welty is pictured with former Triad Principal Dan Kaffenbarger at her retirement party held Wednesday at the high school. During her 51-1/2-career as the principal’s secretary at Triad, she worked with Kaffenbarger the longest – 17 years from 1988 to 2005. He is currently superintendent at Madison-Champaign Educational Service Center. There have been 10 principals at Triad since its inception, and she worked with all of them. She and her late husband, John, both graduated from North Lewisburg High School, which became part of the Triad consolidation, and their two sons and two of their three grandchildren graduated from Triad.
Ask her what she’s been doing for the last 51-1/2 years and she’ll tell you she has been serving as the secretary to the principal at Triad High School. Bettijo Welty was only 31 years old when she started that job and now in her ‘80s, has decided to hang it up.
She was born in 1934 and for most of her life has lived in the North Lewisburg area, graduating from the high school there in the class of 1952. She and her husband, John, had two sons, Pat and Jerry, and then she decided to go back to work. All those years at the school were spent with 10 different principals.
The principals were varied in personality. She thought the most difficult one was a guy who believed everyone else was wrong. Anything, anyone suggested could not possibly be the right way to do it and so fortunately, his tenure was short.
The easiest one to work with was there for 17 years. It was his first job as principal and yet he and Bettijo developed a true friendship and counted on each other to keep things going smoothly.
There are lots of duties of a high school secretary. One is to listen to and read the excuses for absences. The task was sometimes difficult due to handwriting and misspelling on the notes. Occasionally, when a child was sick the parent would go into extreme, specific, gross detail, when describing all of the symptoms their child had.
Some of the most interesting times were when a student would call in with his own excuse about why he wasn’t there. Bettijo would recognize that this was the student and not the parent, who was supposed to be calling. At the end of the conversation she would always say, “Thank you,” and use the student’s name so they realized she knew what was going on. It may have been a legitimate absence, but the parent was supposed to make the call.
Of course, there were many changes during the 50-plus years she was there. One was moving to computers instead of a typewriter. This technology came into play more than 20 years ago and learning to use it was a challenge. She was apprehensive at first, but now everything about computers is interesting to her.
The printer-copiers connected to the computer, of course, replaced the old mimeograph machines of the 1960s. Bettijo remembers being quite excited the first time she pushed the button and the printer across the room actually printed something from the computer. The world changed for her at that point.
Students have changed, too. In her early years, she says students were more responsible. They counted on themselves to have books with them and notes or anything they needed for school. Now, high school students seem less responsible and more reliant on mom or dad to bring those things to them. The high school is out in the country, far away from everything and Bettijo pointed out, it’s often a challenge for parents to drop what they’re doing and bring the items to the students.
Now, students rarely need to come to the office to use the phone to call someone for help. Most students have cell phones, which are not to be used in class, but are permitted in school.
Something that didn’t happen in the early years was alcohol in school. Recently, there were two incidents of girls doing just that. Bettijo says that many students will carry a container of water or a small thermos around school. During the above incident, it was suggested that someone in administration should check out the girl’s containers. Yes, they had brought alcohol to school and, yes, they were drinking it! Seriously, how could they think they could get away with that?
Her favorite part of the job has always been getting to know the students. It’s a small high school of only about 300 students and that number has remained at that level for most of her time there. She says that it’s easy to get to know about 80 students in each class.
Occasionally, it has come to her attention that some kids were having a rough time at home and then it became a challenge to be their friend, someone who maybe could just offer a smile and get them to smile back at her. She hopes they always felt able to talk to her, maybe when they couldn’t talk to anyone else. She’ll miss the kids the most, she says.
Bettijo is now 83. Her husband, John, died last October and she has had health issues, so she said that it was time to make the retirement decision, mostly at the urging of her sons. In addition to her two sons, she has three grandchildren, John, Josh and Jenna, and a great-granddaughter, Emelia. Good memories go with her from a job she loved.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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