For Charlene Wilkins, 40 plus years as secretary of St. Michael School has made for a contented mission of service. She’s the type who doesn’t mind if you call her at home, loves seeing good news in the paper about the kids at school, and is often one of the last to leave at the end of the day.
“I just enjoy it,” the 71-year-old said. “They say bloom where you’re planted, so I guess that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. I just enjoy the kids, I enjoy the parents, the teachers—I enjoy it all.”
Wilkins graduated from St. Michael’s herself. Her three children attended the school and the last of her grandchildren graduated just last year. She began her role as secretary in 1973.
From modest beginnings
At that time, the church and first and second grade were housed on Bright Road in a modest building where she worked with principal and mentor, Sr. Barbara Davis. Grades four through eight were downtown, across from the church. In addition to her secretarial duties, Charlene washed the teachers’ lunch dishes, served as school nurse and was a gym teacher for several years. She stepped in wherever she could help.
“Back then we were just out in the cornfield,” Wilkins said. “There was no mail and one telephone.”
Through the years, the school grew until a new school and church were added in 2005. St. Michael’s now offers kindergarten through eighth grade, preschool and kindergarten readiness programs, and definitely has more than one phone.
Each day Wilkins can be seen deftly maneuvering between filling out endless forms, training volunteers, welcoming office visitors, helping students, making copies, and answering a phone so active, it seems like it might be alive.
But Wilkins boils the many tasks that make up her job down to “taking care of the present moment, whatever it is.”
She is also great at saving money for the school. Anne Brehm, principal of St. Mike’s for 14 years, has known Wilkins since her children attended the school. Brehm was a student, tutor and teacher there before becoming principal.
She said that if it weren’t for Charlene, tuition would be a lot higher. She has a knack for encouraging volunteers, getting people to save receipts and tags for school reimbursement programs and recycling, Brehm said.
Wilkins said that years back, she had to sign a letter of intent and estimate how long she would work. She was joking when she wrote she was going for 40 years.
“It just kind of came and went and I’m still here,” Wilkins said, laughing.
Through it all, Wilkins says it’s the people that bring her back each day. She enjoys the faith community. She tries to help kids who seem like they’re in need. And she always wants people to feel welcome.
“Service is a great word to describe Charlene,” Brehm said. “She likes to serve the children, the teachers and do things for the parish. It’s her mission in life. She’s put her whole life into this place—and she loves it.”