By SHELLY WILKISON
Everybody loves Ms. Lucy!
That’s what Liberty Hill Intermediate School principals say about Lucy Kemper, the veteran school receptionist who has been the face of the school for the past 13 years. Wednesday was her last day on the job. She retired after 30 years of service with the Liberty Hill school district.
“She has been our first line of defense,” said Principal Kathy Major. “She defines us. She loves us, has taken care of us and protects us.”
Mrs. Major, who has been principal at the Intermediate School as long as Ms. Lucy has been assigned there, said her trusted receptionist made a huge impact on the school and will be missed.
“It’s hard to describe what she has meant to this school, to me,” Mrs. Major said. “A lot of who we are and how we’re seen is based on the relationship she has with the community.
“She loves everybody, and that’s how every school receptionist should be,” she added.
Ms. Lucy, who describes herself as a “people person,” has an unusual knack for remembering names and faces. Mrs. Major guessed that Ms. Lucy may know all of the familial connections for as many as 5,200 people who were once students.
“When you consider about 400 kids come through here every year, over 13 years, that’s about 5,200 kids,” she said. Adding the parents for each child, and the number increases at least two-fold.
For Ms. Lucy, it was all about keeping children safe at school. She said at the beginning of each school year, she studied the emergency information sheets of the new students. She memorized the names of parents, siblings and even grandparents, learned where students live and what buses they ride. She memorized the students’ names and faces before she ever met them for the first time.
After Ms. Lucy makes the initial connection to each child, she never forgets that child. Even after years pass, she can recognize a former student and remember the student’s family.
“She has a real gift,” Mrs. Major said. “She is an original, one of a kind.”
Ms. Lucy attributes her ability to remember people to staying so long in one place.
Married with two children and six grandchildren, Ms. Lucy and her husband, Jeff, live on the property that has been in Ms. Lucy’s family for generations. She grew up in Liberty Hill and graduated from Leander High School in 1972 — the year that Liberty Hill didn’t have a high school. She was one of only 36 students in her graduating class and only six of those were from Liberty Hill.
In 1983, she went to work for LHISD as a special education aide assigned to Merridell Achievement Center, which was part of the school district until it became a Charter School. For the first 17 years of her tenure at LHISD, she worked in special education until joining the Intermediate School staff in 2000.
“I’m excited (about retirement), but then sometimes I think, ‘what have I done,’” she laughed. “I think it will hit me in August (when everyone returns to school).”
Selected Staff Member of the Year by fellow co-workers at the Intermediate School, Ms. Lucy said she will miss the staff, but she will not miss her phone ringing before daylight every morning.
For the past 13 years, it has been her job to find substitute teachers. From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, teachers call in their absences to her home phone and answering machine and Ms. Lucy calls out for subs.
“I can’t wait for the phone not to ring. I enjoy sleeping late,” she said.
Ms. Lucy said she has a list of things she looks forward to doing in retirement. At the top are spending time with her mother and taking short trips across Texas. She also enjoys reading and has already “stocked up” on her summer books, she said.
When asked what she would do first, Ms. Lucy laughed and said “clean out closets.”
Assistant Principal Scott Copeland said Ms. Lucy’s contagious laugh and sense of humor have been such an important part of his day that the change will be noticeable.
Copeland’s office is located just across the hall from the reception area. He said Ms. Lucy’s laughter brightens the spirit of the school.
“She makes me laugh every day. She is our Radar O’Reilly,” he said, referring to the character on the 1970s television series “MASH” who was able to predict things before they happened.
Copeland said Ms. Lucy seems to have a special sense about her. She is able to see when people are not feeling well or are troubled by something.
“She calls everybody ‘Precious’,” Copeland said.
He said when Ms. Lucy had something “bad” to report to him, she started the conversation with “Hello, Precious,” mimicking the tone he had come to recognize through the years — similar to one a mother might use to comfort a child.
Mrs. Major added that Ms. Lucy had a special vocabulary that those who worked closely with her had learned to interpret.
Mrs. Major said she reserved “‘Precious’ or ‘Punkin’ for those people she really loved.”
In introducing Ms. Lucy to school district employees at last Friday’s end-of-year employee meeting, Superintendent Rob Hart said Ms. Lucy commonly called him “Punkin’” when he called the school. Employees, who were likely familiar with the practice, erupted in laughter.
Copeland added that Ms. Lucy’s genuine love for the students enabled her to put everyone at ease, even in the most difficult situations.
“I say what I think, and I probably do say too much, and I do kind of not think sometimes before I say things,” Ms. Lucy said, with a giggle that quickly turned serious. “But I go by Major’s rules. I’m a rules girl.”
Ms. Lucy said being the school receptionist is not as simple as it may appear.
“Lots of people think we’re just up here (in the office) eating bon bons,” she said. “But, we’re always taking care of things and looking out for kids. I want my kids safe.”
“She handles everything and everyone with love and respect,” Mrs. Major said, adding that Ms. Lucy’s “spider senses go off when someone comes in that shouldn’t be here or when something just doesn’t seem right.”
Ms. Lucy’s gift of memory has protected the staff and students on many occasions, but the most memorable occurred some years ago when a woman came onto the campus and stole the wallets of two teachers.
Ms. Lucy said she won’t ever forget that day. She said students and teachers were in the parking lot participating in a fire safety demonstration when a nicely-dressed woman stopped by the office claiming she was there to attend the event with her child. After she wrote down the child’s name on a sign-in sheet, the visitor asked to use the restroom.
“As soon as she walked down the hall, I looked at the name and realized we didn’t have a student by that name,” she said reliving the panic she felt that day.
Ms. Lucy ran down the hall toward the restroom she had directed her to and found the woman outside a classroom. “She told me she got lost,” Ms. Lucy said.
Ms. Lucy watched as the woman left the building and got into a vehicle with another female. When teachers returned to their classrooms, they were told to look through their belongings. Two discovered their wallets were missing. The thefts were reported to law enforcement officers who within hours stopped the pair and discovered they had done the same thing on several school campuses in nearby towns that day.
“She was in the building six minutes and got two billfolds,” she said, as if not realizing that it was her quick action that prevented a bigger loss.
“To do this job, you’ve got to have snap and be on your toes all the time,” Ms. Lucy said.
Her Intermediate School co-workers held a retirement party in recent weeks for Ms. Lucy and four others retiring this year — Mary Wolfe, Vicki Bates, Susan Haberer and Kay McCarthy.
Ms. Lucy said she avoided the tearful goodbyes by saying “see you later” instead.
“I haven’t cried yet because I’m not saying goodbye,” she said. “But, it will be hard when August comes and I don’t get the memos.”
“With her longevity, her caring and kindness, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to have her here (at the Intermediate School),” said Mrs. Major. “Ms. Lucy embodies the once ours always ours (philosophy).”