As the school year draws to a close, Lakewood High School is readying itself to send off another graduating class, and, at the same time, tpreparing to bid farewell to a beloved and longtime employee.
Set to retire this June, Brenda Bass has been a fixture at Lakewood since September 1977 when she became the school’s bookkeeper at the age of 28.
“It was my first real job,” said Bass with a smile.
Before landing the job at Lakewood, Bass and her family moved around quite a bit due to her father’s work in the military. Prior to settling in Salemburg, Bass noted that the family lived in Atlanta.
“Can you imagine that?” said Bass of moving from a big city to a small town. “It was a big change for us.”
Despite the differences, Bass soon fell in love with small town life. “It’s nice and quiet and you know so many people. It’s a good area and the support from the community is great here.”
Her job at Lakewood and the people she has met throughout her years there have helped make Salemburg home to Bass and her family.
She specifically recalled Grace Eatman, the bookkeeper at Lakewood who preceded Bass and the one who prepared her for her job.
“She was so helpful. She died of cancer but before that I would help her and that’s how I learned,” said Bass of her training.
Now after 35 years as the school’s bookkeeper, Bass knows her job inside and out.
“I do everything that has to do with money and purchasing,” described Bass. “Although I really do a lot of other things like fix copiers and such. I just jump in and do a lot.”
Although an expert at her job, Bass noted that bookkeeping for the school has certainly changed over time.
“I remember when we had these big old ledger books that we had to keep track of all the money in. I really don’t see how we did it,” shared Bass, noting that a school has a lot of accounts that need to be managed. “We came from there to using a one write system to using IBM computers and now I have a computer with a hard drive and internet and email.”
“I still prefer to talk on the phone though,” added Bass, not yet taken with email.
While she enjoys managing the school’s finances, the job does not often put her in direct contact with many of the students, so she especially enjoys it when she gets the chance to interact with them.
One of the ways Bass has gotten more involved with Lakewood students is by acting as an adviser to seniors working on their graduation projects, something she has done for the past two years.
This year, one of the seniors she is advising is Teisha Rich. “She has been such a breeze to work with,” praised Bass. “I have really enjoyed it.”
Having worked at the school for so many years, Bass not only knows her job well but she also best knows the school buildings and the changes they have undergone.
“The office spaces have changed over the years and some of the classrooms. I remember when I was first here the school did not have a full cafeteria. That space back there with all the equipment and everything needed to prepare the meals was not there. Food was prepared and brought in from the old Charles E. Perry school,” Bass recalled.
Knowing the history of the school’s facilities makes Bass the go-to person in the school’s office, especially when repairs have to be done. “Whenever someone like the telephone man comes, I am the one to show him where to go because I know the buildings so well. I have been here the longest out of anybody that is still here now.”
Accompanying a long career at Lakewood are many memories. Most are good but some stand out for other reasons, like the time Bass came upon a robbery at the school.
During the summer quite a few years back, said Bass, she and a co-worker were returning to the school after taking a break for lunch. When the ladies arrived back on campus, a couple of men said they were taking some of the school’s computers in to be fixed.
“I told them they were not because I would know about it,” said Bass. “I ended up following them out to the parking lot. I had this paper bag with a hamburger in it and I was going to write their license plate number down on the bag but one of them took that from my hands and threw it over to the side.”
Fortunately, Bass was not harmed in the incident and said she believed the police ended up catching the robbers. “It was scary but I got over it.”
One bad experience was not going to keep her from making many more wonderful memories, and according to Bass, it is the people she has had the opportunity to work with that have made her time at Lakewood so enjoyable.
“I have worked with 13 different principals,” noted Bass, adding that although each principal had their own way of doing things that she had to adjust to, each one had been a pleasure to work with.
“That’s a hard part about being here this long. I have see a lot of people come and go,” Bass reflected. “Most of the time, you know that them moving on is for the best but it can still hurt.”
It is easy to see that Bass values the relationships she has with her co-workers at Lakewood, relationships she will greatly miss being a part of on a daily basis when she leaves the school this summer.
“We are really like a family. We confide in each other,” said Bass, “and I am so close to so many of them. It’s going to be hard not being around them every day.”
And Bass’s co-workers feel the same way about her.
Dale Helms, the school’s OCS job coach, is a former Lakewood student who worked in the office with Bass during her senior year. “She is just as sweet and patient now as she was then. People are always knocking on her door and she’s always happy to see them.”
“Keeping the books for a high school is quite a job,” said principal Monty Strickland, “and she has done a wonderful job.”
Receptionist Bobbie Alexander shared that Bass had been a big help to her over the years. “She is so good at what she does. Now, it feels like a part of ourselves is leaving.”
“I just can’t do without her. I’m going to have sugar withdrawals,” added guidance counselor Rhonda Strickland with tears in her eyes, noting what a sweet person Bass is.
“They’re trying to make me cry,” responded Bass, fighting back emotions. “I didn’t want them to make a big deal out of it.”
Although it is bittersweet to be saying goodbye to Lakewood, Bass is looking forward to enjoying her well-deserved retirement.
“I’ll get to spend more time with my husband and get to work in the yard. I love working in my yard. I also like doing crafts. I knit and crochet so I’ll have more time for that” said Bass. “Plus, I have eight grandchildren that I’ll get to keep.”
Before retirement begins though, Bass has a little over a month of work left to do. “I’m staying through June so I can close out this year that way next year will be totally their year for the next person.”
Bass is also in the process of training that next person who has already been chosen to follow in her footsteps as the school’s bookkeeper.
“We’ve been working together for just a few weeks so far,” said Bass. “I said that I would train her because sometimes people really don’t get the training that they need. I also told her that if she ever had any questions or ran into any problems, she could always call me. I’d be happy to help.”
This kind of care and concern for the well-being of the school makes Bass a standout employee, and just this week, the school chose Bass as May’s employee of the month, an honor she has now received twice.
“Even when I leave, my heart is going to be here,” said Bass looking around the school’s office. “Lakewood is such a part of my identity, a part of who I am.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.