Cecilia Galvan, Helen Saxon, Kathryn Laster, Karen Clardy and Lisa Andrews work LHHS graduation

Cecilia Galvan, Helen Saxon, Laura Lara, Kathryn Laster, Karen Clardy and Lisa Andrews work LHHS graduation

After 25 years, Karen Clardy has announced that she will retire as Lake Highlands High School’s Executive Assistant in June. Often called “the REAL Boss of LHHS” and “the Woman Who Runs the High School,” Karen recalls the highlights of her quarter century as a Wildcat.

You’ve seen lots of students graduate over the years. When did you move to LH and begin working at LHHS? Where did you graduate from high school? What was your high school mascot?

My husband, Floyd, and I moved from the Washington D.C. area to Lake Highlands in July of 1990 with our two children, Sarah, a Forest Meadow 8th grader and Ben, an 11th grader at LHHS.  It was not an easy age for them to change schools.  We ended up buying the home of Mike and Jill Gunnels, who still live in LH over by LHJH.  They were our first introduction to the community -great intro, awesome people!  By October of 1990, I was getting a little restless and was anxious to meet people.  My husband heard through one of his co-workers, Chuck  Cabaniss, that his wife was leaving her job at the LHHS library and a part time job was available.  That’s how my career started at LHHS.  Ron Maples was the principal who hired me.  I then worked at the special services offices with Phil Jones when Ron Matthews was principal.  In 1998, I replaced Joanne Brecunier as the executive assistant for Bob Iden.

I have been going to graduations since 1995, and I have missed only two graduations that I can recall.  I graduated from Fayetteville High School (Bulldogs) in Arkansas.

Graduation is my very favorite event at LHHS.  I have the honor of pacing the students as they enter the arena.  I get to see every single student’s face as they walk out and look up at all of the people who are here to see them graduate.  They are in awe (even the too cool kids) and their smiles are worth a million dollars.

You’ve worked for and with some colorful characters over the years. Can you tell us some stories?

I loved working with Bob Iden. It was hard to keep him in his office.  Bob Iden would much rather be out and about in the halls visiting with students and teachers.  He walked in one day after one of his hall walks with a pair of underwear hooked on the antenna on his radio…said it was in the hall…with a smirk on his face.  He loved the students and the students adored him. He did not like meetings, and would much rather be out in the halls or on the sidelines of a football or soccer game. He was very self-sufficient and thoughtful. He would hand write a birthday note to every teacher every year.  Bob’s handwriting was terrible, by the way. He also loved giving awards and had a closet full of certificates for any occasion. He also had a file for everything. He had over 8 file cabinets in his office at one time.  I still have some of those files – I keep thinking I am going to need them one of these days.  Bob would rarely eat anything while at school.  He was too busy having fun.

Walter Kelly had a totally different personality. He had a very quick, dry sense of humor which I really enjoyed.  He was extremely organized and so am I so we worked well together. I will never forget the first fall that he was at LHHS, I got a phone call from [movie star and rap artist] Will Smith’s promoter asking if he could come to one of our pep rallies. I said yes without asking Walter, (ask forgiveness later).  I walked down the hall and found Mr. Kelly and said, “Guess what? Will Smith is coming and I think we need to put together a pep rally really fast.”  He looked at me in amazement ..like “does this happen often?” We ended up having Tony Romo come to the same pep rally. We had to keep it a total secret and sneak the celebs in through the band hall.  I had some great one-on-one time with them. The kids went crazy when Will and Tony walked into the gym.

When Peggy Dillon first walked in to my office I wasn’t sure we would be a good match….five minutes later I knew we would be great together.  She was funny, funky and a daily fashion show.  But when it was time to get down to business, she could be intimidating and firm. She loves decorating and we spent the whole summer decorating her office, redecorating mine and Cecilia Galvan’s office.  The first year she was at LHHS she decided to accept the volunteer job to decorate the tables for the Excellence in Education Fundraising Gala. I told her I would help. She is a very “detail” oriented person.  We stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before the Gala making sure the sparkles on the branches were glued on just right. She ate like a bird and did not like anything sweet except she loved her Dr. Peppers and Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich with just pickles.  She had a nice big mirror in her office – I really missed it when she took it with her.  We both like turquoise pens – she was always taking mine.

By the time Frank Miller arrived, I knew I could adjust to anyone. He was hired a week before school started and he came from a totally different school district and had never been a head principal.  It was a huge adjustment for him, but he never seemed flustered or overwhelmed. By December he had my head spinning, He was high energy and so excited to be at LHHS. He can only sit for so long.  When a meeting would be over he would dash out, singing and walking the halls. He always bounces back, nothing gets him down.  I have to limit Mr. Miller on his caffeine intake and he loves strawberry donuts with sprinkles.  Frank has the second worst handwriting.

Over the years, I’m sure there were problems and pranks. We’ve all heard about the Muffin Men incident. Were there other “events” you can recall?

There were always pranks…chickens in the halls during homecoming week, I think we had a pig one year roaming the halls. One morning we must have had every “for sale” sign in Lake Highlands put on the front yard of the school.  The big bronze seal in the foyer of the auditorium was mysteriously removed and found somewhere by the tennis courts.

The muffin incident put us on the map…unfortunately.  I can remember grabbing the “muffins” out of the lounge and taking them to Dr. Iden’s office so the DEA could pick them up for testing.   They were the best looking muffins you ever saw, by the way.

Says Dr. Bob of Karen: Undoubtedly, one of Karen’s Top 10 best “adventures” would have to be her sleuth-like detection of the source of the Muffins of Mass Destruction that brought the Dallas Police Department, Dallas Fire Department, FBI agents from the Dallas Office, an Office of Homeland Security official, and Channel 8 News to the campus, as well as a mention in Conan O’Brien’s opening monologue on his Late Night Show.

[Conan’s joke, as I recall, had to do with LHHS earning a million dollars on the school bake sale after the marijuana-laced muffins were discovered.]

Can you recall working with some zany teachers during your tenure?

I really miss some of the teachers from a few years back who really were involved in the spirit and traditions of the school. Laura Alverson (Math), had a special “spirit dress” that she wore on Fridays and gave the traditional graduation rehearsal “do’s and don’ts” to the seniors.  Windy Winstead (Science) usually wore a white lab coat and on spirit Fridays wore red pants.  He was also a bee keeper.

We did have some odd teachers, but that is what makes this place so interesting.  I can remember some of the principals walking a teacher or two out the front door.

Were there students over the years who you just can’t forget, either because they were kind and caring, or outstanding, or had big personalities, or overcame obstacles? Do any of your favorite students come back to visit? Do they sometimes surprise you?

I enjoyed my job the most when I was the student council sponsor. It gave me an opportunity to really get to know some very awesome kids and their parents.  I have had some favorites and keep up with many of them through Facebook. They still come and see me. [2011 grad and Bell Boy] Wilson Gillespie stopped by the other day to introduce me to his “serious” girlfriend.  He always offers to pick up Flaming Roosters from Jake’s for us. That was our favorite! Jeff Claybrook [another 2011 grad and Bell Boy] just texted me today and is coming by to see me tomorrow.  We have so many past grads who have moved back and now have students who have children at LHHS! Courtney Spearman was very special to me when she was in high school.  When she walked in for sophomore registration last fall with her beautiful daughter I got all teary-eyed.  I like to think I touched a few lives over the years.  I know I have been touched by so many of these kids. They have taught how to move forward through adversity.

I love that past Wildcats are coming back to the Lake Highlands community to raise their children and serve their community.  I had Robert and Stephani (Smith) Walne in student council, Sarah Walne in Girls Service League (I also sponsored GSL for a while), Blythe Bader Lane and so many more who are active in our community and giving back. That’s what we do in LH – we raise our children to be good citizens, sometimes we also raise other people children, but that’s what makes our community so unique, we really are just a big old family.

It hasn’t all been fun. We have tragically lost some really awesome students over the years.  We have lost teachers, most recently my dear friend Mike O’Hern. He and I went through cancer together.  We encouraged each other when we lost our hair and celebrated our “cancer-free” for another year events.  We mourn together as a family and celebrate our successes as a family – that’s what we do in LH.

Tell me about your own family. What was it like having your kids and their friends at your place of work?

I think I was harder on my own children when they were at LHHS then I was with the other kids. No free passes from me! I was very careful not to wear my “parent hat” at school. If I needed to talk to a teacher about a problem, I made an appointment. My son Ben graduated from LHHS in 1992 and went to UT. He is an environmental consultant living in Little Rock.  Sarah, my Highlandette, graduated from LHHS in 1995 and got a degree in Psychology and Elementary Education from Texas Tech. She got married and taught at Northlake Elementary for a couple years.  She and her husband live in Allen and have twin 9 year old boys and a 7 year old boy. My husband retired a few years ago from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then practiced a little law but is pretty much retired now.

Why have you chosen to retire now? What will you do with your time? What will you miss the most?

I actually was thinking about retiring two years ago but Ms. Dillon got a promotion and I didn’t think it would be a very good time for me to leave with a brand new principal. Mr. Miller has two years under his belt and is doing well.

I am retiring to spend time with my husband, children and grandchildren.  I can’t remember the last time I went shopping and had lunch with my daughter. We have a lake house in Hot Springs that we are currently trying to remodel from a distance. I haven’t been able to spend much time at the lake. It’s too long a drive for a two day weekend and I only have two and a half weeks off during the summer. We also love to travel! My husband and I still have a lot of places we want to visit.

Will you move away from LH?

Heck no! This is my home!  I will still be going to the musicals, football games etc. I will practice what I have taught our students and do some volunteering to give back to a community that has given so much to me.  My son and daughter have asked me over the years when I was going to graduate from LHHS. I guess I am now finally going to graduate!

Karen’s answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

LHHS graduate Wilson Gillespie brings friend, Wayne, by the LHHS office to meet Karen

LHHS graduate Wilson Gillespie brings friend, Wayne, by the LHHS office to meet Karen