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Goodbye, Mr. Ogden

Jim Ogden, talking to his sixth-grade grandson, Christen Williams, is retiring from the South Whidbey School District this month after 30 years of service, most of it at Langley Middle School.   - Gayle Saran
Jim Ogden, talking to his sixth-grade grandson, Christen Williams, is retiring from the South Whidbey School District this month after 30 years of service, most of it at Langley Middle School.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Jim Ogden is a man of many hats, as well as many mop heads, spatulas and early morning bus drives.

During his 30-year career with the South Whidbey School District Ogden, now 50, has done just about everything but teach. He has been a bus driver, a head cook, a custodian and a utility supervisor at Langley Middle School.

This month, he adds one more line to his resume as he becomes a retiree.

Ogden is perhaps the only person who can say he has spent the majority of his life in the Langley Middle School building. Before being hired to work at the school, he was a student and a 1971 graduate of Langley High School — the building that later became LMS.

He regrets not a minute.

“My life has centered around South Whidbey schools, first as a student then as an employee,” he said.

He even married his high school sweetheart, Debbie, just after graduation. The couple has three children, all graduates of South Whidbey schools. In addition, they took in 52 foster children over the years.

It was hardly a stretch for a man whose work involved kids every day for three decades.

“I’ve been around kids all my life,” Ogden said.

In the time he’s been working at the schools, Ogden has had a unique view of school life. He’s seen the way children behave over the years.

“They have more freedom now than when I first started working here,” he said. “But kids are still kids ... they still pull fire alarms, throw food during lunch time, slam doors and carve their initials in desks.”

Ogden — one of the longest-serving non-teaching employees in the South Whidbey district — is a walking, talking history book. He’s worked for seven superintendents and five principals. Dana Brown Gilroy was his favorite principal because “she was one those people that you worked with not for.”

Ogden is one of the founders of the Service Employees International Union that contracts with the school district. The first SEIU contract was signed between the district and non-teaching employees 30 years ago. Ogden is a senior shop steward for SEIU and over the decades has helped negotiate all the contracts and handled employee grievances.

“I know the contract inside and out,” he said.

During the 1970s, Ogden was a bus driver, then became the head cook for the food service program.

In 1980, he joined the night custodial staff at LMS. In 1988 he joined the utility crew.

Now as the utility supervisor, Ogden works behind the scenes.

“We do whatever it takes to make the day go, whether it’s performing light repairs, ordering supplies and handling some custodial chores,” he said.

Progress has caught up with Ogden’s work. He remembers arriving to work early on cold winter mornings to “fire up the boilers” to heat middle school classrooms. Today, a much smaller, computer-controlled furnace does the work. Now, Ogden’s office is in the solid concrete room that once housed the old boilers.

One of Ogden’s primary jobs now is to respond to teacher’s requests for supplies, repairs and other needs. Even this job has changed over the years.

“There used to be a long paper trail created when teachers had specific requests,” he said. “Today they just send me an e-mail.”

Greg Willis, the current principal at LMS, first met Ogden in 1985.

“I thank him for his years of service and dedication to the district and we all wish him well in retirement,” Willis said.

While working in the district’s food service area, Ogden was the recipient of several awards from Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

One of his greatest joys in life was working with his brother, Melvin, when they were both bus drivers, then later starting their own business, South Island Lock and Key, which he still operates. Melvin died five years ago.

Even as Ogden leaves the school, there is still at least one member of his family walking the halls of LMS. His oldest grandson, Christen Williams, is a sixth-grader at LMS.

“I told Christen now that I’m going ‘It’s all yours.’”

Williams visits his grandfather in his office everyday and said he will miss having him at school.

“But I get to see him at home, so it’s OK,” he said.

Ogden’s final day is Oct. 31, Halloween.

“It’s no trick,” Ogden said with a smile. “I am really retiring.”

As he heads into retirement, Ogden is grateful that he gets to retire at age 50.

“My wife and I have a lot of plans,” he said. “I know my life is going to be totally different, now that it won’t be centered around the schools.”

To start, Ogden will be donning hat — a helmet to go with his new motorcycle. But he’ll still wave at the children on school busses when he sees them out one the road.

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