Longtime office mates

From left, Linda Uden and Karen Graham have served a total of 63 years in the Chanute High School office. 

ERIC SPRUILL

If the halls of Chanute High School could talk, what would they say? 

Chances are Linda Uden and Karen Graham could tell anyone if they wanted to know. They are the eyes and ears of the school. The first faces to greet anyone who enters the school. And with a combined 63 years of experience, the two have seen and heard everything.

Uden is wrapping up her 37th year with the school, while Graham is in her 26th. 

“Sometimes I call the child by their parent’s name, because I am old enough to remember their parents when they went to school here,” Uden said. “They look at me like, what? But I have been here for a long time. I remember all the faces that come through here.”

Throughout their careers they have seen several success stories. Graham pauses for a moment to think about past students. 

“We have one going into the Army Rangers, another one going to Harvard next year, one who is an artist in New York. So many successful students have come through here,” Graham said. 

The only unsuccessful thing the two have endured are excuses for tardiness and absences. And have they heard them all.

Graham told this story. “If you are old enough to remember the Total cereal commercial that said, ‘One bowl of Total is equal to 10 bowls of Wheaties.’ Well we had a student come in and say he was late because his dad had to eat 10 bowls of Wheaties before they could leave the house. When they come up with something like that, you don’t want them to get punished.” 

Graham laughed while thinking about other excuses she has heard. Most of the time, it is way more information than either Graham or Uden want to hear.

“My favorite one was a kid who brought in a scrawled up piece of paper that said, ‘Excuse so-and-so, he was at the dentist, Signed the dentist,’” Graham said.

Uden noted that there are calls that are difficult to make – especially ones that get the students in trouble.

On cue, Graham burst into laughter. 

“Like the one where this boy student called and pretended to be his mom. I called his mother, who in turn called him back. He came to school and I said, ‘Really, your mom?’ He was like, ‘I get told I sound like my mom all the time.’”

The pair has former students come in and talk on a daily basis. Their Facebook accounts are full of friendships of former students – but only after they graduate.

More work goes into being a secretary at a school than one can imagine. They have to log in all tardies and absences from every hour of the day, from every classroom, in a school that contains 557 students.

Since the high school doesn’t have a full-time nurse, they bandage students who are hurt and take their temperatures when they feel sick. 

“I wish someone could follow us around for a day. I really do. There is so much more work that goes into this than people think. When we were at the old high school, we were on the second floor, which tells you how far we are removed from those days. But we would have to go door-to-door every class period and collect tardies and absences,” Uden said. “Then we would have to come back and log in all that information.”

The students and faculty are what keeps the pair going. They love their interaction with the public. They can identify someone by just hearing their voice on the phone.

While not all calls to parents are fun to make, they both agree that the successes they see at the school far outweigh the bad situations.

“I keep a file in my desk that I put all the cards we receive from students and former students in. I call it the smile file,” Graham said. “For instance, we had a student who sketched a picture of the two of us on the front of it. I pull that out every time I am having a bad day to remind me why I am here.”

Uden plans on retiring in the next couple of years, but still enjoys her job.

They both know each other’s jobs like the back of their hands and can cover the other if one is out sick. They have been together so much, they unknowingly do the same things.

“On two occasions we have bought the same pair of glasses,” Graham said. “We did it two years in a row.”

If one has ever been away from the school halls for too long and wants to know what is going on, ask Graham and Uden – they are the faces, the eyes and the ears of Chanute High School.

 

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