By TIFFANY RONEY
At first, it was not clear whether the elementary students were excited for cake and ice cream or for their 80-year-old secretary. Partway into the party, their source of happiness became clear: children simply love Agnes Garten.
More than 30 local adults and the entire school of children attended Garten’s 80th birthday party at St. Andrew’s Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. Chris Bacon, principal and 1st grade teacher of the school, said faculty members organized the party to celebrate Garten.
“She’s just very dedicated and wants to help out, bless her heart,” Bacon said. “She’s very humble she does so much for the school and this was a huge surprise for her. She didn’t expect this kind of celebration but she’s very humble and dedicated.”
Along with the cake and ice cream, the party included cupcakes, lemonade, a special birthday prayer, the “Happy Birthday” song and a question-and-answer time in which students asked Garten questions into the microphone such as, “What do you want for your birthday?” and “What was kindergarten like when you were a kid?” For more questions, as well as Garten’s answers, see the box AT RIGHT.
Afterward, Bacon held a [snare] drum and instructed Garten to hit it eight times – one hit for each decade of her life.
Cam Pastran, para-professional of the school, said Garten is a rock for the school.
“She’s the one that holds it up,” Pastran said. “She is a wonderful joy. She’s the peanut butter on the bread.”
Still in service
After 41 years at St. Andrew’s Elementary School, one 80-year-old secretary is still taking calls, and she does not have plans of quitting anytime soon.
Agnes Garten started working at the school in 1971. Back then, instead of structured classrooms, the school used one open classroom where students of all ages worked at different levels. Instead of a computer and a copy machine, Garten used a typewriter, a ditto machine and a mimeograph.
Grading systems were different – even the youngest children earned grades of A, B, C, D or F, whereas they now receive satisfactory or non-satisfactory marks. Additionally, the school devised its own standards of excellence in the 1970s. Now, the school works to meet state requirements each year.
Chris Bacon, principal and 1st grade teacher of the school, said Garten carries a wealth of information about the school’s history.
“If there’s a question I have, she’ll remember. She has a really sharp memory for everything,” Bacon said. “It’s hard to believe she’s actually turning 80 because she’s just still so involved in the school and still a big part of everything we do every day. We’re very blessed to have her.”
Known for potato salad
In addition to her work at the school, Garten serves St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in various ways, from bulletins to baking. On her own personal time, Garten serves the school by organizing box top labels for funding and adding receipts from the school’s supply purchases.
Theresa Brierton, retired 1st grade teacher of the school and member of the church, said Garten has played an important role in her family’s life.
“She’s always been involved with activities at church, anything family-centered,” Brierton said. “She’s known for her potato salad at the picnic. At any of the home and school meetings she was in charge of food. She’s just one of those gals who doesn’t know how to quit. She knows what hard work is and she does it.”
Garten raised eight children and served her family as a farmer’s wife. Additionally, she has volunteered with the baking project for a local 4-H Club for 60 years.
“She’s a person you can look up to for when hard times come,” Brierton said. “Don’t give up. You just keep going.”
More than position – her role is mission
Bacon said this “Energizer Bunny” mentality is rooted in a mission mindset.
“She’s very patient and she does what’s needed beyond just her daily job,” Bacon said. “If there’s something extra that she can do for the school, she’ll do it. She looks at it, I think, as a mission. It’s not just a job. It’s her career and a mission that she’s had as a part of our parish and our school family.”
Bacon said Garten does not want people to make a fuss about her above-and-beyond work ethic. Similarly, Garten did not plan any sort of celebration for her birthday. Bacon said she would have had no idea it was Garten’s 80th birthday if she had not discovered the day’s importance via school records.
Cam Pastran, para-professional of the school, said the children keep Garten young.
“It’s amazing, as involved as she still is,” Bacon said. “We can all learn that lesson, to be as young as she is when we’re 80. She just has a great spirit and wants to keep helping out.”