Cheryl Peiffer, the main office secretary at Monongahela Middle School, stepped away from her desk for a little more than 20 minutes during the last hour before Thanksgiving break. When she returned, it was bedlam.
Three people circled her space, one of them held the phone up not sure what to do with it and another greeted Peiffer warmly when the matriarch of the school was back.
“It’s a thankless job,” said Jennifer Devecchio, a computer skills teacher summoned in from the parking lot to help get things back in order during Peiffer’s brief break. “You just expect that she’s going to be here and the day is going to run smoothly. When she’s not here, it doesn’t run smoothly.”
So what’s going to happen in January, when Peiffer is away from the department for good?
“We hope,” Devecchio said, “whoever they hire is familiar.”
After nearly 41 years in Deptford Township education, a bulk of that time working in the administration building at Blackwood Terrace and during the last six years at Monongahela Middle, Peiffer is retiring after the Christmas holiday. Peiffer, a 1970 graduate of Deptford High School, is leaving as the longest-tenured employee in the Deptford Township School District.
Peiffer is celebrating it a few weeks early with a party at Nicolosi’s on Nov. 30.
“I was afraid – I have middle child syndrome – that nobody would come to my party,” Peiffer said. “The girl that was here before me (Jo-Ann Willingham, at Lake Tract Elementary) had a big party at Nicolosi’s and we went to her party. But up until six years ago, everyone I’ve worked with is gone. So who is going to come to my party? But then I found a family here (at Monongahela). So everyone here is coming, my first boss, Tony Voci, the former director of secondary education, he’s coming. Some people that have retired, some high school teachers, (too).”
Peiffer expects more than 100 people at her going-away party. According to her co-workers, she deserves an appreciative crowd.
During the township’s convocation before the start of the school year, with all of the school district employees present, superintendent Arthur Dietz asked everyone to stand. Then he announced if they had been there less than one year they should sit. Then five years. Then on and on until it got to 40 years. Two people were left standing.
Eventually, Peiffer was the last person standing.
“The reigning queen of Deptford schools,” Devecchio said. “This is one of the hardest jobs in the district, because they have contact with everyone, not just students and parents, but anyone and everyone who walks into the building. They’re our frontlines. Whoever has a problem calls here, they can’t call the classrooms. It’s a very hard job.”
“People think all (secretaries) do is answer phone calls – they do so much more,” said fellow Monongahela teacher Claudia Buck. “Her value isn’t reflected in her (compensation). She gets done at four o’clock but is still here at 6 when I leave. Sometimes I come in here and the whole school is empty, but she’s back here. She’s also very organized, makes sure everyone gets what is meant for them. … These are the unsung heroes of our business.”
For Peiffer, it’s simply time to move on and relax a little.
She’s reached retirement age and can spend more time with family. Peiffer has two kids who also went through Deptford’s schools, Brian Milligan, (Deptford Township High School Class of ’94) and Chelsea Peiffer (DTHS, ’13). She met her husband, Rolf Peiffer, who owns Rolferry’s Imprint and Award Specialties, nearly 30 years ago.
“My plan was, in my mind, that I’d go work for him, I’ll be a secretary,” Peiffer said. “He said, ‘It’ll be a cold day in hell before you do that. We’ll be divorced.’”
Peiffer laughed. Instead she’ll devote her time to the Deptford Township High Alumni Association, where she serves on the board of directors and has served as the membership chairperson since 2012. (She encourages fellow alumni to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org). And maybe she’ll join some of her former Spartans classmates at tai chi or Zumba, or some other community class she didn’t previously have time for while working and raising a family.
And if she gets homesick for her Deptford school district family, she’s only lives across the street.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie,” she said. “This is a family here. (Monongahela Middle) school is a real family. Everybody has each other’s backs. We have our own (get togethers), showers, social committees, we contribute if someone has a death in the family, if someone gives birth.”
Peiffer first arrived in Deptford schools as a toddler. She was in the first second-grade class when Oak Valley Elementary opened its doors. She worked in the township’s municipal building before joining the school district, and has had a healthy and productive career that’s seen her running switchboards and mimeograph machines early on to running the public address and video monitor system at Monongahela and connecting classmates through social networks, too.
“We’re going to miss her, she’s truly a breath of sunshine,” Devecchio said. “She’s just a very nice person. And very modest. She will be missed. I’m sad to see her go.”