MAHOPAC, N.Y. - On Friday, May 22, about 250 cars wound their way through the driveway and parking lots between Mahopac’s middle school and high school, many adorned with ribbons and posters paying tribute to one of the district’s most beloved and longest-tenured employees.
After more than 40 years on the job as a secretary in the high school principal’s office, Bonnie Smith has decided to retire.
Smith, whose last day on the job will be June 30, worked her entire Mahopac School District career in the high school principal’s office, during which time she saw seven different principals come and go. She started the job on Oct. 29, 1973, only taking two years off when each of her two children were born.
“She said that when she first started, she didn’t even know how to type,” laughed longtime colleague and friend Peggy Giacopasi. “She went to BOCES to learn. She said the only reason she got hired was because she was blonde!”
Smith grew up in Brewster and has resided there most of her life and is a graduate of Kennedy Catholic High School. She spent two years working for a credit union before landing the job in Mahopac.
“I went to [college at] WestConn and I was going to be a teacher,” Smith said. “Later, a friend told me [Mahopac] had an opening for a secretary, so I applied.”
She’s happy she did.
“I can’t say enough good things about the faculty and the kids,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been here.”
She notes that some of the students she knew early on grew up and came back to be teachers in Mahopac. Some even retired before she did.
“I’ve been thinking about [retirement] for a while,” she said. “But they offered an incentive, so I thought this is my time to go.”
After 40-plus years on the job, what does retirement hold for Bonnie Smith?
“That’s the hard part,’ she said. “I do yard work and I like to read, but I need to find some hobbies. There is an animal rescue place nearby and they need volunteers to walk dogs. And Friends of Karen—I might do something with them. I am looking into things.”
She did have some travel plans on her agenda, including a trip to North Carolina and one to Maine, but after the coronavirus pandemic hit, they got put on hold. Her daughter’s wedding also got bumped to next year.
One of the hardest challenges that retirement will bring, Smith said, is not getting up so early each morning.
“I have never set an alarm clock,” she said. “I am awake at 4:10 every morning and get to work at 6:30. The custodians and I are the first ones there.”
She paused and thought for a moment.
“I am going to have to try to reset my body clock,” she said.
The parade in the parking lot honoring her retirement took Smith by surprise. It was put together by coworkers in lieu of a traditional retirement party, which couldn’t be done during the pandemic.
Smith was lured outside the school that morning under false pretenses and was startled as a Mahopac Falls fire truck rumbled up, sirens blaring.
“I thought something was on fire,” she admitted.
The fire truck was followed by the parade of cars filled with friends and fellow district workers who stopped to greet her, some dropping off bottles of wine or flowers, and even bags of chips.
“They all I know I don’t like cake and sweets; I prefer salty snacks!” she said. “But I had no idea this was happening. I go outside and here comes the fire truck. I wondered, is Mahopac burning down?
“I was amazed,” she continued. “It was great because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to see the teachers because they are not coming back to the school [because of the pandemic]. It was very special.”
Giacopasi, who has worked in the Mahopac School District for 19 years, said she’ll miss Smith terribly.
“There is nobody like Bonnie,” Giacopasi said. “She is loved by everyone. She is just the kindest woman you’d ever want to meet. She will do anything for anyone and is always willing to help. The teachers love her; she is almost like a mother or grandmother to them. She’s just the salt of the earth—a genuine person.”
Asked to share one of her fondest memories of her time with Smith, Giacopasi recalled the time they signed up for a line dancing class together.
“We were supposed to stretch before class to get ready,” she said. “But instead Bonnie wanted to have a cocktail. This was what we called ‘stretching!’”
Next fall, Giacopasi will return to work at the high school, but Smith’s absence will be conspicuous.
“I’m a little bit in denial,” she said. “I don’t know if I can say goodbye.”