On Monday, Dec. 9, Louise Willoughby, South Summit Elementary School principal and Gines' niece, surprised her aunt with a retirement party in the media center at the school. Employees past and present, friends and family all gathered to pay tribute to Gines and her decades of hard work.
"She has done every job imaginable like teach science, prepare lunch, fix office machines, put up Christmas trees, anything you can imagine over the years," Willoughby said. "Our school was much smaller when she started and has taken on many different jobs as our school has grown."
Gines sat in a blue chair next to a large stone tablet that read, "South Summit Elementary School. Gertrude Gines. 38 years, 8 months and 11 days of commendable service." Willoughby said it was a gift from the staff at the school to display in her yard.
On the table the rock was leaning against was a white cake with green polka-dots and a large, hand-held bell with a green ribbon on top. Gines used to ring the bell to bring students back into the school after recess before the automated bell system was put into place.
Willoughby said, in addition to Gines' hard work and dedication, she and the faculty will miss her sense of humor most. "The office is the place to be. Everybody wants to go in there just to feel good," she said.
Gines said she enjoyed working with her sister's daughter. "I dared to say things to her that I wouldn't say to another principal," she said as she laughed in her chair. She also said she was grateful for everyone that had shown up to recognize her.
"I didn't know all these people were going to be here, but I knew they were going to do something," Gines said. "I knew something was up, and it is nice to have everyone here."
She said she will miss the kids the most. Her fondness for the students at the school was apparent when Willoughby said one of the 38 yearbooks Gines was in was missing. "It's because I gave it to a student, because he was crying," Gines said.
A line of employees, family and friends formed to get in a word of thanks or congratulations to Gines sitting in her chair. Her great-granddaughters all gave her hugs, and Gines couldn't help but shed a tear when talking to old co-workers including South Summit School District superintendent Barry Walker.
"My father was the first principal Gertie worked with, and when I saw him today, he said to thank her for doing such a wonderful job all these years," Walker said.
Walker, Willoughby and other employees then presented gifts to Gines and presented a slideshow with pictures from throughout the 38 years she spent at the school.
"I have enjoyed working with everybody here, throughout a lot of changes from the time I started until now," Gines said. "It has been a great place to work."