Watching Goessel grow up

A Goessel Elementary student visits with retiring secretary Denise Nickel. Nickel has worked there for 25 years. Both were dressed up for a Hawaiian theme spirit day. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
A Goessel Elementary student visits with retiring secretary Denise Nickel. Nickel has worked there for 25 years. Both were dressed up for a Hawaiian theme spirit day. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
It is not often in today’s society to have an employee stay in one position at one place for over 25 years. And to have two people in a row do it, is even more remarkable.

Denise Nickel went to school at USD 411 in Goessel. She admired and looked up to the secretary who worked there as the original secretary for the school for 35 years.

“When I was a little girl Miss Eltzie was here and she was such a kind, sweet person and I thought ‘maybe I would like to do this job someday’. Of course, then I forgot about it. But it was in the back of my head then when we moved back here. I grew up here and we were gone for 20 years after high school. We moved back to Kansas and I worked at Hesston College for two years. But then this job opened, and my children were in grade school and junior high. The hours were just too ideal so I applied and I got it,” said Nickel.

When asked why she has stayed this long, Nickel explained that she enjoys seeing each class come in and go all the way through elementary school.

“I always have new ones who come in and have to get through fifth grade, so I can’t ever leave. So now I am enrolling my new three and four year olds and our new kindergarten, and I won’t get to see them all the way. There’s a little bit of it that hurts, but I am still in the community and have grandkids in the building so I will still be around,” said Nickel.

She will also be helping to train the new secretary throughout the year as things come up. And she is ready to substitute in the office whenever she is needed.

“The relationship with the students, the teachers and staff, the kids’ parents and the community is my favorite. I also like the special things like the reading programs, theme days and more,” said Nickel.

Her love for the kids and her focus on relationships comes through in the way that she interacts with others. Kids lit up as they saw her walking down the hall and frequently came into the office.

Superintendent and Elementary school principal John Fast said, “She is also like mom. She knows every kid by name and the parents as well. She is a person who commits 110% and gives of her full heart with tremendous loyalty. Most think her job is just answering the phone and taking messages, but that isn’t it. She has so many state reports to compile and they have to be accurate.”

And members of the Goessel community had positive comments as well.

“She’s like a grandma to everyone of the kids. Need a bandaid? She’s got them. Need a hug? She freely gives them. Once a kid forgot their shoes, for whatever reason, and she gave her shoes to the child to use,” said Sharleen Francis, who not only knew Nickel as a kid, but has a daughter who now attend Goessel Elementary School.

“Thank you for helping me when I’m sick or hurt,” said Aubrielle Francis, Sharleen’s daughter.

“What I really appreciate in working with Denise through the years is that even though this at times can be a stressful jobs, she reminds me to take a break and have some fun,” said Fast.

So what is next for Nickel?

“I will enjoy not setting my alarm. Sitting on my deck with an extra cup of coffee. Having lunch with friends since I’ve always managed the school lunches and haven’t been able to do much more than grab a few bites here and there on the way back to my office,” said Nickel. “I will be gardening, hiking and projects around the house. My number one priority will be to be a grandma.”

All of her seven (soon to be eight) grandchildren live within 15 miles of her.

“I won’t be bored,” Nickel said.

While the school year is wrapping up, Nickel still has many administrative tasks left to do. She won’t be officially retired until June 15.

The staff already had a special evening to celebrate Nickel. The students will also have celebrated her by the time the paper goes to press with a poster made up of all the thumb prints of the children currently in the school.

While it is clear that Nickel will be missed, the good news is that she won’t be very far away and will continue to enjoy her favorite aspect of relationships.