Friday, July 1, 2022

Student sendoff moves retiring school secretary

By Briana Bizier 

Known to generations of children and their parents as 'Miss
Mindy,' longtime Raymond Elementary School secretary 
Malinda McKinney will retire at the end of August.

Raymond Elementary School looked a little different this month as students, faculty and staff prepared to end the school year with flocks of pink plastic flamingos decorating the grounds outside the school and the walls of the front office. These flamingos even made it onto the heads of the elementary school students, who wore handmade pink flamingo hats to an event on their last day of school with the flamingos and a special ceremony meant to honor “Miss Mindy” Malinda McKinney, the beloved longtime school secretary, as she prepares for her retirement.

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, McKinney fell in love with Maine at a young age. Her family vacationed in Nova Scotia when she was growing up, and on those trips, they passed through Camden. The Pine Tree State made a big impression on her.

“I decided at age 12 that I wanted to move to Maine,” McKinney said. “So 30 years ago, I picked my kids up and moved to Maine not knowing a single solitary soul.”

She held several jobs before accepting her current position at Raymond Elementary, where she has greeted students and staff for 16 years.

“She’s the first person you see at the school,” RES Principal Beth Peavey explained. “She’s the gatekeeper, making sure the right people are in the building, and she’s so welcoming and helpful.”

Peavey has worked with McKinney for five years and, like many Raymond residents, she’s known her since her own children were students at RES.

“We’re going to greatly miss her,” Peavey said. “Her unique personality just brings joy to those around her.”

Peavey’s sentiments were echoed by Deborah Hutchinson, the former Assistant Principal at RES who worked closely with McKinney for seven years.

“Miss Mindy always put people at ease with her southern hospitality and her accent,” Hutchinson said. “She’s a wonderful, welcoming presence when you first come into the building, and she takes her responsibility very seriously. She would be like a mother bear if someone came to get a student who wasn’t supposed to, even to the point of chasing them down the hall to make sure they were supposed to be there. No one gets past Miss Mindy.”

During the last week of classes, McKinney’s front office was decorated with sparkling fairy lights and dozens of hand-drawn illustrations of flamingos from the students, including one bright pink flamingo with tears in its eyes and a speech bubble reading “We will miss you!” These colorful sketches shared space with three computer monitors, one laptop, two telephones, and a walkie-talkie.

“And I use them all,” McKinney said, gesturing toward the vast array of screens and buttons on her desk. “The end of the day is priceless. You’ve got phones ringing, the walkie-talkie going off. It’s organized chaos, and it’s so much fun.”

Fun seems to follow “Miss Mindy” wherever she goes. Her love of flamingos, the color pink and flamboyant outfits brings a welcome dose of levity to the school’s front office. 

“I act silly,” she said. “I wear my pink tutu and my headband. You’ve got to bring some oomph to it.”

This silliness is also accompanied by a genuine concern for the students that shines through each of her 16 years at RES. 

When she first accepted her current position at RES, McKinney said that she was given some advice: If you don’t know a student’s name, just call them sweetie. It was advice that “Miss Mindy” carefully disregarded.

“I said, I’m going to learn all their names,” she said and according to Principal Peavey, McKinney knows more than just the students’ names. “She knows all the names, and she also knows all the families,” Peavey said. “She’s a wonderful asset because she knows how to connect with the families. They trust and respect her, and for many families, they love her.”

This love was reflected in the many celebrations for her retirement. During the last weeks of school, there was a retirement celebration at RES’s Frog Pond Pavilion where parents and other members of the community were invited to celebrate “Miss Mindy” as well as a surprise school-wide assembly where students sang a song written by music teacher Patricia Gordon honoring her time at RES.

McKinney said that leaving her position at RES has been emotional.

“I’ve been crying,” she said. “It’s really bittersweet, I’ll miss the kids, my babies. And they really are my babies. Even the ones that can be a little naughty, every single one of them are precious.”

After moving to Maine decades ago and not knowing a single solitary soul, it’s safe to say that “Miss Mindy” has become a part of every family in Raymond. She will continue to work at Raymond Elementary School through August, and then she plans to enjoy her retirement in the state she first fell in love with at age 12. <

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