As the school year came to a close this week, so did a major chapter in Diane Strickler’s life.
Strickler finished up a 35-year career as secretary at Maryhill’s St. Boniface School, a job she never considered as such.
“It just never occurred to me to leave. When you enjoy your job it’s not a job. I always enjoyed it,” she said, sitting outside her office, pausing to greet students by name as they walk by or to point out a stray shoelace.
Even as a child she always wanted to be a secretary, typing away on a typewriter.
She spent 10 years at Greb Shoes – called Greb Industries in that day. And then another 10 years in the office of the Kitchener-Waterloo Stockyards. She’s also worked for the St. Boniface Parish in Maryhill since 1979, and will continue that role as it’s not a large time commitment.
She says she never intended to spend the majority of her career in a school, it’s just how it worked out.
“I know when I was here 15 years and I thought, ‘15 years, where did they go?’ Where did 35 years go? I have no idea,” Strickler muses.
She’ll miss coming into school each day to hear laughter or walking into a classroom and being surrounded by children hugging her. And of course, the older children checking to see if they’re taller than her yet.
Now, she has former students coming in with their own kids. And there’s a long list of generations who’ve all walked these halls.
She recalls when the school celebrated its 100th anniversary, how nice it was to see so many former students come back.“My dad will be 96 on Sunday, he went to school here. I have two great-nieces and nephews that are seventh generation here, so a lot of the kids can say they’re five, six generations,” Strickler said.
In the three and a half decades she’s spent in the school it’s become increasingly modernized. So much of the administrative aspects have moved online from registration to paying for students’ lunch. Transportation is another big part that’s changed.
“All the bus drivers were local. They would come in and we would sit around the staff room table and say these are the Grade 8s that are graduating, so we would take them off [the list]. And then we’d put on the new students and I would say, ‘oh they’re living beside so and so,’ or they would know the family of the kids that are coming in,” Strickler said.
Now she just enters the students’ information online and she’s told what bus the students will go on. The way they take attendance is different too.
They have registers at the Maryhill Historical House that show how attendance used to be kept in books. Now they just do attendance on paper.
“After two years you throw it away. It was nice to see the writing, but that stopped several years ago. That was another big change. The teachers just mark it in an attendance book and I put it into Trillium. It’s so different,” Strickler said.
It’s unclear who will take over her many other roles in the school. She’s led numerous clubs at the school for years, like folk dancing, missions, gardening, bingo, and crafts. She also was a bench sitter for the basketball teams.
“It was a blast. We went all over the place. We drove the kids, now you have to take a bus. We went to Elora and Fergus, St. Agatha, St. Clement. Now it’s a one-day tournament, an afternoon and then it’s over,” Strickler said.
An award was created in her honour this year, titled The Diane Strickler Heart of the Community Award. Grade 6 student Ally Pooran received it for her volunteer work in and outside of the school. It was donated by the St. Boniface School Council and will be given annually to a worthy student at St. Boniface.
She says it was unbelievable when she found out they’d named an award after her. There’s also a buddy bench in her honour.
“We had a special mass and when Alex went up and he had his kilt on I thought ‘oh my gosh, he’s going to play the bagpipes.’ So I was piped over, they had an honour guard and I was piped over. I love the Mull of Kintyre. It’s beautiful. Paul McCartney sings it, but halfway through the song the bagpipes play and I love that song and of course, what does he do? He plays the Mull of Kintyre coming over. It was awesome,” Strickler said.
And the school’s recognized her contributions other times too. When they did tree planting, some stones were donated and placed, which were named the Strickler Circle.
Lifetouch also created a large picture of her, but if you look closely it’s all the faces of students and staff from that year. They did a similar photo for the school and the church as a fundraiser.
She also received a book called The Many Faces of Diane and it’s photos of her through the years doing different things at the school.
Heavily involved with the historical and genealogical societies, she has many projects she’s looking forward to working on in her retirement. She’s also hoping to do a little traveling, to France and to Saskatchewan to see different branches of her family she found through her genealogical work.
As for the school, she has a simple wish for it – she’d like to see it stay where it is.
“We’re the best kept secret in the Waterloo Region, that’s what everybody always says.”