Secretary has left the building

Scott Swanson

On her second-to-last day of work, Cyndi Rinehart was still busy at the front desk at Holley School.

A mother of an incoming student walked in. The phone rang. A reporter asked questions and took photos. Students and teachers were outside, enjoying the school’s Field Day on Wednesday, June 14. But it really wouldn’t have made a difference if they’d been there as well.

Rinehart managed it all with the same quiet, calm aplomb she’s demonstrated for four-plus decades with the Sweet Home School District.

“I’m old enough to know better, but I keep coming back,” she joked.

Rinehart, 63, retired last week after 45 years with the school district, 33 of them as secretary at Crawfordsville School. Following that school’s closure in 2011, she spent 12 years at Holley.

“I feel like I could still work a few more years,” said Rinehart, who noted she’s accumulated about a year’s worth of sick leave, even after raising six children and nursing her husband prior to his death in 2013.

“But 45 years is anough. I’ll still be able to go do some things and enjoy life.”

Rinehart grew up mostly in the Liberty area, the daughter of Benny and Betty Conrad. Her dad had spent 20 years in the Navy and they moved to Linn County following his retirement from the service. Her grandfather, Bob Conrad, lived in Waterloo at the time.

Rinehart actually started working for the district at 15, in the district office during the summer.

“Then, in my senior year in high school, I took the Diversified Occupations class and I worked at the district office for five hours a day. I worked on the switchboard – that’s when people would call the district and you’d patch them through to whatever school they wanted.”

She also worked in the Gilbert Instructional Materials Center – “that’s kind of like the curriculum office now.”

“I worked with Gloria Riggs – she was awesome, and Connie Hall.”

She followed in the footsteps of other family members, she said.

“My first day of first grade was my mom’s first day of work. She was a secretary here at Holley. That’s where she started.”

Her uncle Chuck Conrad was a maintenance staffer for the district for a time. Her brother Dan was an electrician for the district, and her brother John was a summer employee. Her mother-in-law, Joyce Rinehart, was a media assistant for the district.

As she graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1978, the then-Cyndi Conrad didn’t fit the mold of the typical aggressive job seeker.

“My sister was going to college and working in Albany and she wanted me to move into an apartment with her,” Rinehart recalled. “I knew I would have to get a job. There was an opening at Crawfordsville, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ve never sat through an interview. So I’ll go for the interview, for experience.”

Harold Scholliam was the principal. He offered her the job.

“My official hire date was Aug. 16, 1978.”

Later, she said, “I asked him, ‘How come you hired me, because there were more experienced ladies?’ He said, ‘Because you were the only one that went through and corrected your mistakes on the typing test.'”

She was “scared to death.”

“Back then, I was bashful and shy. I was so shy that if I had to make an announcement to a class, I’d write it on a piece of paper and hand it to the teacher and have the teacher announce it because I just couldn’t.

“Now, it doesn’t bother me.”

Over the years, she’s served under 11 different principals: Scholliam, Elena Weiss, Mike Aman (twice), Jay Thompson, Hal Huschka, Rob Younger, Jan Sharp, Judy Isaacson, Larry Horton, Todd Barrett and, finally, Josh Dargis.

She recalls Horton, who stepped in as principal at Holley after retiring as district superintendent, as “a character, lots of fun.”

“You know, they’ve all been good. There were times with a few of them, I didn’t always see eye to eye, but you always remember who signs your paycheck. So sometimes you just bite your tongue.

“And some of them, you know, you can speak freely with and pass ideas back and forth. But you always know that the principal runs the ship. Somebody’s got to be in charge.”

She said she’s really appreciated the true “family” atmosphere she experienced at both Crawfordsville and Holley.

“I remember my mom telling me years ago that you often spend more waking hours with the people you work with than you do your own family. So you’ve got to learn to get along and become your own ‘other’ family and we do.

“There’s no power struggles, no one-upmanship. We work together and if somebody needs help with a project, it doesn’t matter if you’re certified or classified. There’s somebody to step in and help.

“My grandma always said, ‘many hands make light work.’ And it’s so true, because we’re just here and we help each other and do what’s best for the kids. Our assistants are absolutely amazing. They’re just awesome.”

Rinehart said she particularly enjoyed the community at Crawfordsville where, she said, the school brought the neighborhood together. In “Discovery Classes,” students at the rural school – from kindergarten to sixth grade – would go out into the community and do service projects.

“A group would go to the Post Office, and some would go over to the store. We had elderly people in the community that we would go rake their leaves and just do community service projects. And that was a great teachable moment for the kids to teach them it’s OK to go help somebody else.

The school did Dinner with Daisy several times.

“It was like a community gathering where people could come in and get a free meal. Rachel Vanderlip – she’s a little go-getter, I love her – was always heading that up.

“We did a lot of spaghetti dinner fundraisers as well. It was nice because there was a kitchen there.

“We did a lot of fun things as a commnity and I think the school helped keep that community feel. We had very active parents and just a great little community.” In 45 years behind the secretary’s desk, Rinehart has seen a lot of changes, but, she says, “kids were full of beans then and they’re full of beans now. Kids are kids.”

She sees differences in the “respect” from children, she said, “although we have a pretty good bunch of kids here,” she said, gesturing at the hallway outside her office. ” I talk them like I talked to my own kids. You just love them. Sometimes it takes a little slightly different strategy to get them where you want them to go. It’s called psychology.”

Rinehart has clearly enjoyed her role in the secretary’s office.

“They keep me laughing. Sometimes when things come up – kids get in trouble, because they do, they’re still learning and developing – you have to stop and take a step back and remember to look at the world through a child’s eyes.

“They don’t see things the way that adults do all the time. Sometimes you have to keep that in mind. They’re still awesome little people.”

She’s leaving with a lot of memories, including a little drama here and there.

“I remember one time the kids were using the restroom and the urinals were self-flushing.

“There was a kindergartener in there, and another kindergartener came tearing out and told me, ‘He’s drinking out of the toilet.’

“I was like, ‘What?'”

Rinehart said she entered the restroom and found the boy drinking from the urinal.

“It was self-flushing. He thought it was a drinking fountain.”

Another time, she said, “You know that ‘Christmas Story’ movie where that kid gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole? A kid came into my office and said ‘So-and-So has got his tongue stuck to the flagpole because another kid dared him.'”

Barton, who was the principal, told Rinehart, “Quick, get some warm water.”

Rinehold responded, “Wait, let me get my camera first. So we got a picture of him and I sent it to his mother. It was hilarious, just the look on his face, just like the kid in the movie.

“There’s never a dull moment when you work with kids – and some of our staff members too, because some of them are pranksters, which makes it fun.”

Along the way she raised her own six children – Heather, Kathy, Robert, Billy, David and Donald. Two, Billy and Donald, finished their entire school careers without missing a day.

There have been ups and downs. Her husband, Tom Rinehart, died in 2013 after a brief illness, and her son-in-law died of a heart attack that same year.

“That was not our best year,” Rinehart said.

She has 10 “biological” grandchildren and “four bonus,” the oldest a freshman in high school.

She said her retirement plans aren’t real “concrete.”

“Causing michief and mayhem?”

She said she’d like to take some art classes “and turn the alarm off so it doesn’t go off at 5 a.m. every morning.”

Her oldest son and his family live with her, including four granddaughters, “so I have to get up and get those little characters ready for school.”

Forty-five years has been long enough that Rinehart can name families in which she’s served three generations.

” I don’t really feel like there’s anything any more special about me than there is any other staff member in this district. Because we all do our parts and they work well together. We’re like cogs in a wheel.

“You just have to keep your sense of humor.” Every once in a while you have a day when it goes south in a hurry. You leave it behind when you walk out the door. You try not to take your troubles home with you because the one good thing about a bad day is it only lasts 24 hours and the next day you get a fresh start.

“Attitude has a lot to do with that.”