‘I’ve always been a Dodger’

Johnson retires after 42 years with schools

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Feelhaver Elementary School secretary Shari Johnson started working as a school secretary in the Fort Dodge public schools 42 years ago, when she was just 20 years old. This week, Johnson said goodbye to the students at Feelhaver for the final time as she enters retirement.

Shari Johnson was 20 years old when a friend phoned her to tell her that Duncombe Elementary School was looking for a new school secretary. Johnson decided to give it a whirl and interviewed with then-Superintendent Earl Berge.

That was 42 years ago.

“It’s just funny how time flies,” Johnson, now a secretary at Feelhaver Elementary School, said.

Now, after four decades at the Fort Dodge Community School District, Johnson is ready to slow down and enjoy her retirement years.

Johnson is a Fort Dodge native — she attended the former Hawley School before advancing to North Junior High and then graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High. Her two children — who are now adults — also went through the Fort Dodge schools and graduated from FDSH.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Feelhaver Elementary students made cards for retiring secretary Shari Johnson, thanking her for her kindness and help, and asking her to stay. Johnson is retiring after nearly 42 years with the Fort Dodge Community School District.

“I’ve always been a Dodger,” she said.

When Johnson started her new job as secretary at Duncombe, she didn’t know she was beginning a lifelong career with the schools. She continued to work at Duncombe before moving to Des Moines for a very brief time.

“I didn’t like it and came back right away,” she said.

When she returned to the Fort Dodge schools, she took a secretary position at Badger Elementary School.

“I loved Badger School,” she said. “Badger was awesome.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Shari Johnson, secretary at Feelhaver Elementary School, looks over some retirement cards she received from students this week. Johnson is retiring at the end of this school year after nearly 42 years with the Fort Dodge Community School District.

When the Badger school closed in 1990, Johnson moved to the office at Feelhaver Elementary School, where she stayed until her retirement this spring.

“I’ve met some amazing people,” she said. “My closest friends are people I met in the school. That’s what I’ll miss most, just the camaraderie between the people because we really do know everything about each other.”

That camaraderie — and the connections with thousands of students — is why she’s stayed with the schools all these years.

“It’s hard to explain, but right away I loved it and I just felt like this was my niche,” Johnson said. “I loved everything. Every day is so fun and different.”

Over the last four decades, Johnson was the smiling face welcoming every student who walked through the front door at each of the three schools she served. It’d be hard to quantify how many lives she’s touched and memories she’s made, but there are some interactions that will always stick with her.

Just this last year, there was a student at Feelhaver who was having a tough time, she said.

“He kind of struggles a bit every day, so I started to sneak him in just a little treat in his locker, so when he came in the morning, he started off in a good way,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how he knows it’s me, but one day I came out of the bathroom and here he was sneaking a treat into my desk drawer. I just thought that was so sweet. That’s one of my best memories.”

Working at the same school for many years also helped Johnson develop connections with many families — she’d see a series of siblings make their way through the grades, or she’d watch a former student walk in with their own child on the first day of kindergarten.

There are very few things Johnson won’t miss about working at the schools. One of those things is the frustration over circumstances beyond her control.

“Like a difficult day when a student is struggling and you feel so sorry,” she said. “You can’t really fix it and you feel horrible that you can’t fix it. You feel horrible that you can’t make their day any better.”

With Friday being the last day of school for Fort Dodge schools, the fact that she’s now entering retirement hasn’t quite hit Johnson. She said she knows she’ll feel it when August rolls around and she’s not preparing to return to Feelhaver.

“I’m kind of looking forward to when I can just sit at home and read a book or watch a movie,” she said. “I like having that downtime.”

Johnson doesn’t plan to be completely idle during the early years of her retirement. She said she’s looking into finding a part-time job for 15 or 20 hours a week, but for the most part she’ll be getting used to a whole new routine.

“I’d like to take up yoga,” she said. “I’d like to relax. I’d like to do things I never had time to do. I’d like to take a vacation in the fall — I’ve never been able to do that.”

It still might be a couple years before Johnson can take that autumn vacation. Johnson’s husband, John, has worked as a carpenter for the Fort Dodge schools for more than 30 years, but he’s not quite ready to retire yet, she said.


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