The yearbook photos and other memorabilia that sit about a small conference room at Worthington Estates Elementary School have startled more than a few parents.
Sue DeRose, the building's financial secretary, often uses the space to meet with parents and students.
"I'll get parents who are here to register their own child and they'll say, 'Oh my gosh, that's me,' " she said. "It's always so rewarding to see them come in as kindergartners and grow into adults and parents themselves."
DeRose has seen her share of success stories.
For three decades, she has been more than the person in the school office who keeps tabs on the budget and makes purchases. She often is the first person who interacts with parents, and she is always providing that extra reassurance and encouragement to students -- so much so that many students often return to visit her.
She will not be there next year to greet them. It's time to enjoy retirement after a 30-year career, she said.
"She sets the tone for our whole building," principal Tom Forsgren said. "She does so many different things, but she really connects with the kids, and she really does love the students and wants what's best for them. Sue isn't someone that you can replace. That person will have big shoes to fill."
DeRose, a lifelong Worthington resident, grew up in a neighborhood near the school, which is at 6760 Rieber St.
As a child, she, her brother and her sister would fly kites in the field where the school now stands.
Even her children attended Worthington Estates and graduated from Thomas Worthington High School.
DeRose never dreamed her professional career would be right in her backyard.
"I never envisioned 30 years at the same job, but it's certainly been well-worth it, and I couldn't be more happy with that," she said. "I've just done what feels natural or good and hope that helps somebody along the way. I couldn't be more proud of what we're doing as a school and the leadership that we have here."
That leadership includes the eight principals with whom DeRose has worked and the hundreds of staff members, some of them close friends, like Julie Mowery, who works with special-education students at Worthington Estates. She has taught for 22 years.
"There are some students who need that extra special touch in their lives," Mowery said. "Sue has been that person, and it's not part of her job. She very much feels a connection with the families, and you can tell just how much they mean to her. So many of us are saying we don't know what we're going to do without her."
DeRose has watched education evolve in 30 years, she said. She has helped students cope with tragedy, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.
She said it's not all about academics.
"Educators at all levels need to remember that young people come with a lot of issues," she said. "They need to have personal growth, too, and we need to give them the skills to go on in life and cope with the real world. Not being able to have that daily contact with the kids is going to be a big adjustment for me."
DeRose said she doesn't have big plans for retirement. She expects to spend more time with her two grandchildren and visit her family in Atlanta and Denver, she said.
Before she leaves, the school will hold a community celebration from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 15. Her last day on the job will come a month later.
"My official last day is supposed to be Friday, June 13," she said. "I've always said I won't retire on Friday the 13th. I'll work through Monday, June 16."