In a small room off the beaten path in the Vilonia School District sat a group of women hard at work on their weekly tasks. They cut out shapes and letters, trimmed laminated materials and bound booklets.
“They” are the Tuesday volunteers at the Teacher Center who work alongside Maureen Baker, a paraprofessional hired by the district to supervise the center. Although Baker, who also works in second-grade classrooms, is the only paid employee of the group, she hardly considers herself the boss.
“We are all one big family,” she said. “We’ve known each other for years, even before they all retired from other jobs and began to volunteer here.”
Volunteers Sue Briley, Bernice Fulmer, Ellen Griffin and Imogene Pearce have a combined total of 75 years of service to the local school district. Baker has been employed by the district for 31 years. All will retire this year.
“We are all retiring together,” Baker said with a smile. “After we retire, we still plan to get together at each other’s houses and sit around a table and talk. We won’t do it during the summer because we are not used to seeing each other then.”
Briley has volunteered at the Teacher Center for 15 years. She retired from the Vilonia School District after 17 years as a cafeteria supervisor.
“I had a daughter, Sunnie Ruple, who taught here, but she wasn’t the one who got me to volunteer,” Briley said. “It was Bernice (Fulmer) who drafted me.
“At that time, I was busy sitting home watching the O.J. Simpson saga on TV,” she said with a laugh. “She and I got to be friends and have been ever since. I’ve enjoyed working here with these ladies.”
Fulmer began volunteering at the Teacher Center 18 years ago.
“I had two daughters who worked here — Paula Fulmer, who is now retired, and Pam Fulmer, who teaches 12th-grade English,” Bernice Fulmer said. “My oldest daughter told me that when I quit my job, she wanted me to do something here. I told her I would do anything but take care of the little ones. I had a day care in my home for years.
“I volunteer because I like the people here, and we all love our boss (Baker).
“And the pay is real good,” she said with a grin. “We’ve almost gotten rich.”
Griffin has been a volunteer for 26 years.
“My daughter, Cindy Lee, worked as a secretary here the year she graduated high school,” Griffin said. “She told me when I retired she wanted me to volunteer here, so I did.
“I did not have any idea of what I would be doing. I just did — and do — what I’m told.
“If we’re not good at what we do by now, we’d better quit,” Griffin said with a laugh. “We know how to keep these scissors hot.”
Griffin retired as a supervisor at Franklin Electric Co. in Jacksonville.
Pearce has been volunteering at the Teacher Center for 16 years.
“I had a daughter, Pam Thomas, who was a fifth-grade teacher here,” Pearce said. “She’s retired now, but she wanted me to volunteer here after I retired from my job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I worked for 30 years with the agency in Conway as the administrative assistant to the director in the underground bunker out on the hill (once known as OES Hill). I volunteer here because I like the people and the fellowship we have.”
Baker likens the volunteers to the “elves and the shoemaker.”
“The teachers make out a request, send it down here and the work reappears in the teachers’ boxes, done,” Baker said.
Baker operates the laminating machine, and the volunteers wield their scissors to cut and trim the finished product. During a recent visit, the volunteers were working on students’ books of poetry, writing assignments and activities relating to the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Some of the finished works will go on bulletin boards; others will go home with the students.
“We often get the high school art students’ works,” Baker said. “We really enjoy seeing that.”
A lot of the teachers “probably have never seen these ladies before, but they know that whatever they send down here will be done,” Baker said.
“These ladies don’t make appointments for Tuesday,” Baker said with a laugh. “They don’t go to the hairdresser or the doctor on that day. They come here without fail. And if for some reason they cannot come, they call and let me know. They even come in before school starts in the fall if they are needed. It’s a second career for them.”
Another group of volunteers works in the Teacher Center on Thursday. All are retired schoolteachers — Carolyn Frazier, Cathy French, Ann Wilson and Joan Swaffer.
Frazier, who retired two years ago after 38 years of teaching at the elementary school, said the work done by the volunteers saves the teachers a lot of time.
“It’s amazing what they do,” she said of the Tuesday volunteers. “They are all wonderful.”
Baker said the Tuesday volunteers “bought” a school bus for the Vilonia Senior Citizens Center several years ago. No money ever exchanged hands, but the volunteers signed up to work a certain number of hours in order to “pay” for the bus.
“Dr. [Frank] Mitchell (district superintendent) valued the bus, and these ladies worked enough hours to pay for it,” Baker said.
Mitchell said he could not recall the exact cost of the bus, but it was not a huge amount.
“It was an older bus and had been on the route for a number of years,” he said. “They needed a bus, and we had one, but you just can’t give stuff away. We worked out an arrangement where volunteers would work a certain amount of hours at the rate of $10 an hour to pay for the bus. It was a good deal for us and for the senior citizens. As far as I know, that bus is still in use.”