August 13, 2013

Our Neighbors: Enjoying a lifetime at school

By Sydney Combs

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — For most students, once they graduate high school they cannot leave the premise soon enough.  For Lisa Whicker, this statement could not have been further from the truth. 

Immediately after graduating from Laurel County High School at the age of 17, Whicker applied to be a bus driver in the Laurel County School District.  A month later, she was driving her former classmates home. 

“When I graduated, I guess I missed school.  That’s the only thing I could figure out,” Whicker said.  “I was a kid coming out of school going to take care of kids.”

Over the next 16 years, Whicker would faithfully shuttle students to and from schools across the county.  For the majority of her driving career, Whicker would lay claim to the longest route in Laurel County, spanning from London Elementary to Laurel Lake. 

“I had the longest route in the county for 12 years.  I wanted close to the area I was raised up in.  It was like 67 miles one way,” said Whicker.  “I had wonderful kids because I grew up there and I was familiar with all the kids.”

During Whicker’s 31 years working in the school system, she would change her job title from bus driver, to cook, to eventually janitor.  This allowed her remain close to the students and help raise her two sons, Ronnie and Coty. 

“I had such a good experience with the kids that I went on into the cafeteria and driving the bus too.  It was a part-time job, so (that meant) more money.  It worked with my schedule and with the boys at home.” 

Over time, Whicker stopped driving and became a full-time cook at South Laurel Middle School — a position that appealed to her love of cooking, she said.  When the janitorial job eventually became available at the middle school, however, Whicker said she decided to pursue it for the extra hours and better pay.

Life as a janitor kept Whicker on her toes day in and day out. 

“In one day’s time I was walking 16 to 17 miles going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  But it was a new experience every day, and I loved it,” said Whicker.  Some of her responsibilities at the school included: continually cleaning the eight bathrooms; sanitizing the water fountains; and helping children find their classrooms, lost notebooks, and missing retainers. 

“I just loved being around the kids and working with them.  I just enjoy them.  It amazes me how much the kids know,” she admitted.

Whicker thoroughly enjoyed her time at the middle school, although her son, Coty Hammons, now a senior at South Laurel High School, had mixed feelings.

“Everyone at school told her everything I did.  Like instantly,” he said. “My teachers would threaten to go tell her a lot.”

Coty said all of his test grades, homework assignments, and late papers were invariably reported to his mother by his teachers.  In this respect, Coty’s last year at South will be a bittersweet relief as his mother plans to retire at the end of August. 

Despite retirement, Whicker intends on remaining just as busy by raising cattle, pleasure horses, and a slew of dogs.  According to Whicker, though, there is no doubt she will miss the school and its students.

“I am proud of the job I did.  I loved working there and working with the kids,” she said.  “It was very enjoyable.  It makes it easier if you can enjoy your life and your work.”

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Sydney Combs is a summer contributor to The Sentinel-Echo.