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Joy to her world

This week, as it's been for four decades, Westside Elementary School children will see the welcoming face of Joyce Walen in the office as they pass by in the hall. Phil Pfuehler photo

She may be a few years older -- well, OK, 40 years older -- but secretary Joyce Walen says the thrill of Day One at school is the same as when Westside Elementary opened in September 1970.

"What started as a job has become a passion," she says with her usual exuberance.

The 61-year-old Walen said the passage of time is fleeting.

"No, it never occurred to me that I'd be here this long," she said last week. "The years have simply gone by, and now it's 40 years later.

"But it doesn't matter because this is the most enjoyable job I could ever dream of having."

To clarify local history, Walen has an employment record that -- amazingly -- includes jobs before Westside.

In 1969, a year before Westside, she was hired as office secretary at the high school.

There was also an opening at Greenwood Elementary, but Walen was told that a married woman (with children) was deemed more suitable and hired there.

Before the high school job, Walen, a Hammond native, worked for two years as a corporate secretary in downtown St. Paul.

"But I didn't like the commuting, working in a big city or the big-office setting," Walen said.

After being hired at the high school, Walen met Joe Haller, the principal-to-be at Westside. Haller was overseeing Westside's construction and had a high school office.

"So he got to know me and must have liked my work," Walen said. "I got recruited to move to Westside when it opened. The rest is history."

In her first year at Westside, St. Croix Central school board members came to tour the new school. They were checking the new round design, and, especially, the portable wardrobes.

"Westside was built in the bomb-scare era," Walen said. "No hallway lockers and no built-in cupboards or closets in the classroom. That reduced the places where a bomb could be hidden."

One visiting St. Croix board members addressed Haller (loud enough for Walen at her desk to hear): "If she's half the employee her mother is, you've got a very good one."

Walen's mother baked and cooked for that school district's food service.

"That remark was a lot to live up to," Walen said. "But it was also an incentive to follow my mother's example and work hard."

Read more about Joyce in the Sept. 3 print edition of the River Falls Journal.