After 25 years at her post, beloved administrative assistant Karen Clardy will retire from Lake Highlands High School’s front office in June. Known widely as The Real Boss or The Woman Who Runs the High School, Clardy dishes about five principals, zany teachers, memorable students, the craziest pranks and that time Will Smith and Tony Romo attended a pep rally.
How did you get started at LHHS?
My husband, Floyd, and I moved from Washington, D.C., to Lake Highlands in summer 1990 with our two children, Sarah and Ben, in grades 8 and 11, respectively — not an easy age for them to change schools. We ended up buying the home of Mike and Jill Gunnels, who still live in Lake Highlands over by Lake Highlands Junior High. They were our first introduction to the community — awesome 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 … In 1998, I replaced Joanne Brecunier as the executive assistant for Bob Iden.
What will you miss most?
I have been going to graduations since 1995, and I have missed only two graduations that I can recall. 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.
Tell us about the principals you’ve worked for over the years.
I loved working with Bob Iden. It was hard to keep him in his office. Bob 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 smirk on his face and a pair of underwear hooked on the antenna on his radio … said he found them in the hall … 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 would hand write birthday notes to every teacher. 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 eight 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 while at school. He was too busy having fun.
His successor Walter Kelly had a very quick, dry sense of humor, which I really enjoyed. He was extremely organized, like me, so we worked well together. The first fall that he was at LHHS, I got a phone call from Will Smith’s promoter asking if he could come to one of our pep rallies. I said yes without asking Walter — you know, 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 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 Romo walked into the gym.
When Peggy Dillon first walked into my office, I wasn’t sure we would be a good match, but 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 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 different school district and had never been a head principal. It was a huge adjustment for him, but he never seemed flustered or overwhelmed. He was high energy and can only sit for so long. When a meeting would be over he would dash out, singing and walking the halls. I have to limit his caffeine intake, and he loves strawberry donuts with sprinkles. Frank has the second worst handwriting.
Pranks. We’ve all heard about the ‘muffin men’ incident (if you haven’t, visit Advocatemag.com and search the term). Were there others you can recall?
There were always pranks — chickens in the halls during homecoming week. We had a pig one year roaming around. One morning we must have had every “for sale” sign in Lake Highlands put on the front yard of the school. The marijuana-laced muffin incident put us on the map, unfortunately. I can remember grabbing the spiked pastries 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.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. To read the longer interview, visit lakehighlands.advocatemag.com