Donna Smith, a mainstay at Roncalli for 46 years and school secretary for the past 43, retired Friday, and with much fanfare.
Smith was honored in front of the student body during halftime of the faculty versus senior basketball game, which was followed by a reception in her honor.
“There were huge sheet cakes, and there was enough for everyone at school,” she said. “All the students gave me hugs when they got a piece of cake.
“I’m going to miss the students, faculty and staff – everybody ... everything. I’m going to miss it all, except getting up at 5 a.m. and driving to school in bad weather.”
The day was an emotional one for Smith, who vowed to be strong and not cry. But when the children of teachers who ride to Roncalli with their parents before being escorted to nearby St. Jude School gave Smith a picture of them with her, the tears began to flow.
“Those kids came to my office every day,” she said. “I gave them treats and they gave me hugs. The children of boys basketball coach Michael Wantz, Eli, Zoey and Piper, call me grandma Donna.
“I cried many times Friday. Roncalli is my family away from my family. I’ve told them that I will fill in if they ever get in a bind. I later told (Principal) Chuck Weisenbach that it was one of the best days of my life.”
When her husband, Dick, died, Smith said her immediate and Roncalli families were there to help pick up the pieces. “I would not have made it without them.” In addition to her role as secretary, the school’s newsletter reported that Smith also served as cheerleading moderator for years and was a longtime collector of tickets at football games, something she will continue to do. “I love them Rebels; they are really good,” she said.
“Her infectious smile and pleasant personality have touched the lives of thousands of students, teachers/staff members, parents and guests,” the newsletter noted.
Smith, who said she’s not going to get bored with all of her new free time, has three children, Rich, Dianna and Jimmy, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. “I went to the zoo Sunday with my granddaughter Jordan (Nucum) and her husband, Seth, and their children, Ryder, Oliver and Archer. We had a great time. How can you go to the zoo with your family and not have wonderful time. I will have more time to do things like that.”
Bob Tully, the school’s vice president of mission and ministry, said Smith has some great memories of Roncalli, some good ones and some not-to-good ones, but through them all she has always been steady, loving and caring. “Many folks on the Southside – grandmothers, grandparents, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers – will be missed by Donna. But most all ... they will miss her because she was a mother to all.”
Weisenbach summed it up best before Smith officially retired: “It is with great mixed emotions that I share with you that Donna Smith has announced that she will be retiring Feb. 23 after 46 years of unparalleled service to Roncalli. Hired by the late and great Principal Bernie Dever, she has been the face of our school in its main office for nearly half a century! I frequently tell people she was like the eye of a hurricane.
“Phones are ringing, a teacher is informing her the copier isn’t working (again), an angry parent is demanding to see the dean, a student stops in to tell her the toilet is overflowing on the bottom floor, a custodian calls up to tell her of a car with its lights on, etc. All of this and more is coming at her at the same time, yet there is Donna with a smile on her face knocking out quality work as if there were not a single distraction.”