Conversation with Julie Davis

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.

“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”

Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia Elementary School.

Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.

We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit, and laughter haven’t changed a bit.

Alright, Julie Davis: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

It’s so different to see you sitting and just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were always non-stop.

I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of working at Arcadia. And so many stories!

Will you tell us a story?

Sure. I’ve got thousands of them!

There was this first grader who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still remember his name. Eric.

And here’s another story. A third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.

And then there was a time….

Here’s a 2002 award Julie received from appreciative parents for “going beyond the call of doody.” Let’s just say it involved helping with a search effort per doctor’s orders. Julie found the quarter.

Okay, bear with me. It’s going to take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.

Okay.

You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?

I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to work for everybody. [She laughs.]

CIS partners would often comment how you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how do you do that, make people feel at home?

I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life, including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.

As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.

I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.

From your perspective as a former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?

I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”

Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this because of their love for children and watching them succeed.

What have you found to be the most surprising about retirement?

I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.

Do you have a pet peeve?

Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it. Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.

What are you curious about?

[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one, just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was calling.

Maybe your curiosity can finally be satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!

Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992 that this happened, practically every day during the school year.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!

Can we talk some about your experience with cancer?

Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is unexpected” and you move forward.

I was going to ask, “How and in what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.

My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences and I’m thankful for that empathy.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended. When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the ending.

Although I’m reading the Bible exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my all-time favorite is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

What is your favorite word right now?

Since you want just one word, it would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots and lots of words.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My parents, George and Helen.

Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you both back to half time.”

Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time, that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens, and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”

That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just both shook it off, said okay, and went on.

Sounds a lot like you!

[Julie laughs.]

Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

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