By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, MN Things won’t be the same in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Middle School office since secretary Jan Fitzpatrick retired Friday.
After more than 22 years of service to the district, the well-loved secretary was convinced to retire by her husband, Tom, who also recently retired.
“He continues to tell me I will love retirement, but he also knows I like to stay busy,” Fitzpatrick said, noting that volunteering will probably find its way into her days.
Fitzpatrick has been the friendly face greeting students, staff, and parents in the middle school office in Howard Lake since it became the HLWW middle school in 2004.
Before that, she was the secretary at Humphrey Elementary School in Waverly, where she began working in 1990.
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work in my local school district all these years,” Fitzpatrick said. “It has been a total joy to meet new students, families, and staff each year. Interacting with those persons of the past, as well as these new friends in our HLWW communities, has filled me with warmth.”
One of the things Fitzpatrick learned in her time as secretary is that youth are “marvelous people,” she said.
“When I started this job, I think I looked at the glass as half-empty, and immediately realized that the glass is full when observing the students,” Fitzpatrick said.
She explained that she is reminded of the students’ goodness as she glances up from her desk and sees them pass by the office door with big smiles, friendly waves, and quick greetings.
“These young people and our staff have made my day 174 days a year for 22 years,” Fitzpatrick said, noting she is thankful to the communities for the opportunity she has had.
Although Fitzpatrick feels blessed to have been a part of the district for so long, her coworkers have also found working with her to be a blessing.
“She is always willing to do extra to make things better for the students,” said Middle School Principal Jim Schimelpfenig. “Jan is not only an advocate for HLWW schools and our communities, she is an advocate for our children.”
“Everyone loves Jan she’s almost like a grandmother to most of the kids at our school,” noted teacher Addie Mucha. “Her kindness and enthusiasm for life just ooze out of her.”
Fitzpatrick is able to keep a smile on her face and not become frazzled, even while being bombarded from all sides with requests from frenzied middle-school children or staff, Schimelpfenig commented.
“She really has a gift,” he added, noting that Fitzpatrick doesn’t realize the uniqueness of her talents. “She is truly pleasant all the time.”
It is easy for co-workers, students, and others to come to know and appreciate the things that Fitzpatrick does, because she makes them feel welcome and appreciated, noted teacher Pat Weseloh.
“She truly is a kind and giving person. Her concern for others, and taking care of their needs, is always at the forefront of any task set before her,” Weseloh said. “She makes connections with all staff, students, and their families who are a part of this district.”
The time Fitzpatrick has spent with staff and students in the district has been filled with hearty laughs, celebrations of excellence, tears for each other, silly fun, and the blue and gold activities which unite the district, Fitzpatrick said.
“I take great pride in the students who have stood in front of my desk as I see the wonderful accomplishments of their school career,” Fitzpatrick noted.
She has followed sport teams, music events, theater, FFA, and other fine arts activities over the years, as well as helping with district fundraising, voting and referendum issues, and many other things that support the school and its communities, Weseloh noted.
“As a long-time supporter of HLWW Public Schools, I know that [Fitzpatrick] will continue to be a steward of our district,” noted Superintendent Brad Sellner. “More importantly, I can say that HLWW Public Schools is a great school district because of her.”
“Our parents and staff have so much to be proud of. I can’t imagine having worked anywhere else,” Fitzpatrick noted as she prepared for her retirement. “I always tell people that I never have a long day I start at 7:30 a.m., and suddenly, 4 p.m. is here,” she added.
Weseloh noted Fitzpatrick “is looking forward to doing some of those long-awaited grandma and grandpa activities she talks about often.”
One of those activities will be spending more time with her granddaughter, June, who just turned 1.
And, with all three of Fitzpatrick’s children living in Minnesota again, retirement will give her time to take leisurely day trips and weekends to the Twin Cities or Duluth to see them, she said.
Students’ thoughts about Jan Fitzpatrick
“She’s the best secretary! She’s great at cooperation, and always makes me feel safe.” ~ Calesta Decker
“She’s the most amazing secretary in the whole entire world. She makes my heart glow.” ~ Harlie Amland
“She’s the best Jan EVER, and very fashionable.” ~ Gretta Goede and Abby Johnson
“I’m gonna miss her patience, ‘cause when I need something, she’s always patient with me, and that is something I’ve learned from her.” ~ Joe Schanus
“She is so good with us kids, and is always kind.” ~ Cody Christensen
“She’s always caring and learns all of our names. She’s kind of like our school mom. We love that she comes to our events and activities.” ~ Charese Brown
“Every time I had a bloody nose, she was there to help. She waited with me the whole time, even if she was supposed to be doing something else. At first, I would be scared, but she would help, and I would be less scared.” ~ Nick Olson
“She always helps me do my homework. I will miss seeing her smile.” ~ AJ Fie
“She is exuberant because she always smiles, and that makes me feel happy. Whenever I have to go to the office, I never feel afraid to go in there because she is so kind.” ~ Elizabeth Ahrens
“She was a great front desk person. Whenever I went in there, she always knew my name. Sometimes I would forget why I came in the office because she would take time and talk to me and ask me about my life and how I was that day.” ~ Garrett Zachmann
“No one could ever replace her, because she was awesome.” ~ Brandon Roberts
“She’s like my second mom. She makes my day non-stressful.” ~ Heather Leukuma
“She was always helpful and made me feel like my family was important to her.” ~ Sadaf Nassiri
“She’s always patient with us and always has a smile for us.” ~ Tilly Goede
“No one can ever say, ‘Boys and girls, may I have your attention, boys and girls’ over the intercom like Jan can.” ~ Gabriell Bayerl
“We appreciate how much you never judged us or thought of us poorly when we were sent to the office for less-honorable reasons.” ~ Cameron Decker and Roberto Gallegos-Celis
“She has always been there for me.” ~ Sam Gatz