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King split between Weston, Ripon campuses
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Ripon schools’ secretary Debbie King wears her smile on her sleeve and her caring for students and parents is definitely a heart-felt trait she uses between Ripon Elementary and Weston school campuses. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON - It wasn’t in kindergarten where school secretary Debbie King learned all she needed to know about life, but in her parents’ grocery stores where she greeted customers on a daily basis beginning in her mid-teen years.

Her constant smile and a unique talent in understanding children, parents and teachers alike seems to be almost inborn in her psyche.

The downturn in the economy reduced the office staffing of Ripon’s grade schools by half a secretary. Debbie had been in the Ripon Elementary School office for 24 years at the time of the cut. She volunteered to take on two schools – Weston and Ripon Elementary – serving half time in each with twice the number of students’ and parents’ names to learn in the process.

She said she had known some 80 percent of Ripon’s boys and girls on a first name basis, already learned some 30 percent of those at Weston Elementary. Since she no longer monitors the cafeteria operation, she is seeing fewer students on a daily basis.

King served under a series of principals at Ripon Elementary including Will Burgess, Bob Prewitt, Terry Shireman and Mike Larson and now Lisa Fereira at Weston. She’s at Ripon Elementary from 7:30 to 11:30 and at Weston from 12:15 until 4 p.m.

 “It’s good, it’s a challenge but everyone in the district is making allowances and doing the best they can with the time we have,” she said of her current position. “It’s actually been good to see both sides – because kids are kids – and teachers are teachers, but principals have different ways of running their schools and the ways they want their offices run and their schools run. I’m getting to learn about a whole new world, really.”

King added that teachers in both schools “have been very wonderful – and very supportive knowing I am only there part time.”

A graduate of Ripon High School in 1976, she first moved to Ripon with her family in the fifth grade. Her husband, Ted, entered the school district in the fourth grade. Debbie had attended Ripona School when it only went up through the sixth. Her family owned the Food Center grocery store on Main Street – now the site of an athletic club – where she had worked first as a bagger at 15, stocking shelves and moving up to the level of checker when she was about 16.

Knowing that a friendly smile was always the order of the day, coupled with the philosophy that the customer was always right, set much of the stage for her years working with families in the education of their children.

That was about the time she was in the running for Miss Almond Blossom and active in the high school band. She played the bells and xylophone in the percussion section as well as being a majorette.

“That’s when my hubby and I got together in my junior year,” she chuckled.

She freely admits that she learned to “meet and greet” in the grocery store, something she continues to do so well today at school.

 “Public service, the customer is always right. You do the best to please them and do the best job you can,” said the former Debbie Webb.

When she and Ted were married they moved to Sheridan, Montana where they both worked in a “mom and pop” grocery store with her parents. She was 20.

“We got married Nov. 4 and we were in Montana by Thanksgiving,” she recalled after 32 years.

Both of their children were born there in the little eight-bed Ruby Valley Hospital in that small Montana town that she said was much like Ripon. It had 3,000 residents.

“(It had) special people in a small town just like Ripon used to be,” she said.

 Daughter Amanda is now 30 and Doug is 27.

 Asked to verbalize the best part about being a school secretary, she said, “For me, because I grew up here, it is that I see the kids that I went to school with – the adults – who are now moms and grandparents and I get to know their grandchildren. I think that’s pretty exciting just to see how they compared as they grow up.”

King said that a lot of the people she went to school stayed in Ripon or they moved away and came back to the community.

“I just enjoyed being a part of it,” she added. “I love the people and even the trials they are going through – being able to talk to them and sometimes being able to help them through things.”

King said that a school secretary is not just a person who has a lot of paper work to do. They have to be a different kind of person “because you have to be there for the people and you have to be there for their children, be a listener and a caregiver when they come in and they are hurting or they just need a hug.”

She emphasized that in the business world those secretaries don’t get to partake of that. King served her time in the corporate world too, being a bookkeeper for the FMC Corporation, and at Brown Brothers Insurance Adjusters before she was married.

In Montana, after the grocery store sold, she was employed by the Sheridan Unified School District as an administrative assistant as well as at Dillon Glass as the administrative bookkeeper.

King is looking ahead to more years in education – 13 to as many as 20 – before she even considers retirement, she said.

Fishing is her hobby – “wherever my husband will take me” – along with camping and spending time with family and their four grandkids. Mandy and her husband Chris have a boy, Joseph, and a girl, Janessa. Son Doug and his wife Dawn “just gave me a brand new baby granddaughter – so they have two.”

While she continues to work in Ripon schools, her husband Ted teaches history and English in Riverbank.