By Andrea Arnold
After more than three decades of service to the McBride community through her job as the secretary at McBride Secondary School, Kathy Molendyk has retired. As of September 1, 2022, she is no longer the first face you see when you walk into the school office.
“I could have retired two years ago,” said Molendyk. “I kept going because I loved it.”
Molendyk started working at the high school in June 1989, stepping in just in time to help the staff and students transition from the old building to the new one. She had been working in the Ministry of Forests office, but jumped at the opportunity to work in the school. At the time, her sons Jamie and Shawn were seven and five years old.
“With the boys in school it worked out really well,” said Molendyk. “My holidays were the same and we had a similar daily schedule. It cut way down on childcare costs. I loved it.”
Being involved in the school also allowed her to attend many of the boys’ sports events.
She even got her class 4 drivers license when they were in high school so she could drive for their teams and go to their games to cheer them on.
When Shawn was in Grade 12, the family took in their first exchange student, the first of seven. Three of these were planned and the other four joined Molendyk mid-exchange for a variety of reasons. All seven of these individuals have kept in contact with Molendyk and even returned for visits.
Highlights of her career include watching the Grade 12 class graduate each year, and seeing the changes and growth from when they first arrived at the school.
“I always felt it was important to attend graduation, to show support for the kids as they take the next step in becoming young adults,” she said.
She was given the opportunity to travel with grads as a chaperon on their celebratory trip six times, twice to Disneyland and four times to Edmonton.
There have been some not-so-easy moments in her career as well. Molendyk says that seeing some kids with so much potential struggle to make it through Grade 12 has been an aspect she didn’t find easy.
“Some kids have made mistakes,” she said. “They need a second chance.”
She has tried to find ways to help many of these kids. She regularly hired students for odd jobs, referred them for jobs, and even opened her home to students needing a place to live while completing their schooling.
Although she has retired from the school, Molendyk has no immediate plans to leave McBride, at least not permanently. She plans to spend more time with family. As a loving grandmother and loyal fan, she will be leaving on a regular basis to follow her grandkids in a variety of competitions. She plans to continue driving CN Taxi, and has applied to be on the casual list for the school district, ready to sub into her old position as well. She is still hard at work with the Elks and Royal Purple, planning next year’s combined reunion and Pioneer Days weekend. In the immediate future, she hopes to be successful in hunting a moose.
“I’ve been applying for a moose tag for about 13 years,” she said. “I finally got one this year. I’m excited.”
On Saturday evening, some 60 people who had been touched by Molendyk gathered at the Elks Hall to express well wishes. The party was a surprise two months in the making. Molendyk was greeted with “Surprise” as she stepped into the hall dressed in comfortable warm clothes ready for a drive-in movie night (the ruse) and was stunned into silence. As she scanned faces, she was touched to see people who had travelled good distances to attend, and some who had lied to her about the timing of upcoming visits. Once she composed herself she invited everyone to eat as she ran home to change. Following dinner, former McBride Secondary School Principal Derrick Shaw acted as emcee telling some stories and hosting a round of “Jeoparty” – McBride Secondary School edition. A video of well wishes and a few written notes sent from Molendyk’s former students, parents, coworkers, kids, grandkids, exchange students and MLA Shirley Bond left Molendyk looking for a kleenex.
Through Molendyk’s 34 years, she worked alongside six principals and one acting principal. Four of these individuals were able to attend the special evening.
Dan Kenkel worked with Kathy until his retirement a few years ago. He admired Kathy’s ability to continually exceed expectations.
“She would anticipate the needs of everyone at a very high level,” he said. “She has a sense of fun and laughter that would fill not just the office but the whole school. She made kids feel special. She did her job with love, enthusiasm and kindness. Working with Kathy in the office was a delightful way to end my career.”
Shaw, now principal of Valemount Secondary School, has continued a friendship with Molendyk beyond the school doors.
“Only once in a lifetime does someone get the opportunity to work with someone like Kathy,” he said.
The first principal that Molendyk worked with, Ian Kennedy, made the trip up from Vancouver Island to join in the celebration. McBride Secondary was Kennedy’s first school as principal, so the pair learned their jobs in tandem. In that first year, as the requirements for each month approached, they would work together to complete them. From then on, Kennedy knew he could rely on Molendyk to keep the school on schedule, bringing things to his attention when they needed to be addressed.
“She was intuitive, and we worked well together,” said Kennedy. “My dad taught me to anticipate people’s needs and Kathy did that for me. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I did not find that level of support in any of the bigger schools I have been in.”
Molendyk’s daughter-in-law Katrina Molendyk spoke on behalf of the family thanking the community for helping pull off the surprise. She announced that she, along with Shawn and Jamie, have created the Kathy Molendyk Legacy Bursary to be awarded annually to a McBride Secondary School graduate who demonstrates characteristics of leadership and community service.
Molendyk was shocked that the people closest to her—coworkers, family and members of the Elk and Royal Purple—had managed to keep it a complete secret. She was overwhelmed by the words of appreciation and thankful to her friends and family for hosting the event.
“I will miss the kids,” said Molendyk. “I will especially miss seeing how they change from year to year. It was really strange to not be there for the first day of school, and I felt I was missing out on the conversations around how summer holidays went.”
Although Molendyk will miss aspects of her job, she is excited to move forward in this new stage of life.