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Princeton Middle School's "First Lady" Retires After 53 Years As Secretary

Candace Braun

"Semper fidelis" (always faithful), "First Sergeant," "First Lady," and "The Queen," are just some of the nicknames John Witherspoon Principal Bill Johnson and his staff have for the school's secretary of 53 years, Carmela Drummond.

"I don't believe there will be another employee who can say they've given more than 50 years to the district," he said, noting that Ms. Drummond has seen many transitions over the years, including the changeover from taking attendance with pen and paper, to keeping all her records on a computer.

Ms. Drummond, who, along with her husband, her daughter, and her five siblings, have attended the public schools in Princeton, was honored at a recent meeting of the Princeton Regional Board of Education, where it was announced that she will retire from her post after giving more than five decades to Princeton, effective January 1, 2006.

"It's a very bittersweet time for me," said Ms. Drummond in a recent interview. "I've learned so much about education by being involved in it here."

Born in 1934, Ms. Drummond grew up on Leigh Avenue in Princeton. Her parents, who were immigrants from Italy, met after settling here.

The oldest of six children, Ms. Drummond has one brother and four sisters, one of whom, Mary, retired from a position at the Valley Road Building, only to be recruited back into the district by Mr. Johnson as a cafeteria aide.

"If I was growing up today, I would have been a lawyer, and my sister Mary would have been a teacher," said Ms. Drummond, noting that through her position in the district she has learned that education is a true gift that shouldn't be taken for granted.

"Education is an incredible tool. Through education you can do anything you want to do," she said, which is why she sent her daughter, Stacy Drummond, to college to earn a degree in graphic design. Still a Princeton resident, her daughter has been a creative director at Sony Music, and currently has a son, Nevada, who attends second grade at Johnson Park Elementary School.

"I'll always still have a connection to the district as long as he's in school," said Ms. Drummond, who said she has been thinking about retiring for the past four years.

"It was a very painful decision for me to make. My whole life has been associated with the school system; I never left it," she said, noting that she was planning to retire from her post in June, but decided to stay on for the fall as it is the busiest time of year for the faculty.

Taking on the Post

Ms. Drummond's career with the Princeton public schools began the summer after she graduated from high school in 1952, when she received a call from her principal at what was then the Princeton Township School, serving students in grades kindergarten through eighth.

Principal Bertha McKenzie Eisenmann "was a very strict woman" said Ms. Drummond, but she liked her as a student, and hired her to be the school's secretary.

In 1966, after she had been working at the Princeton Township School for 22 years, the Borough and Township regionalized and became one school system. Ms. Drummond then served as the secretary of the Valley Road School, which served Princeton middle school students. Almost a decade later the school moved to its current home, at John Witherspoon Middle School.

Bill Johnson arrived soon after the move.

"We've been a team ever since," said Ms. Drummond, recalling that when Mr. Johnson first came to JW 29 years ago, he asked her if she could take shorthand, to which she replied that she was very capable.

"He can really dictate," she said, adding that her relationship with Mr. Johnson has been a very close one.

Calling shorthand a "lost art," Ms. Drummond recalled her own schooling in Princeton, and said she believes that when she was growing up schools were better at preparing students for the working world, with courses such as typing, bookkeeping, and office training, as well as the regular academic courses.

"I'm very grateful for the education I got at Princeton High School," she said. "I had wonderful teachers and wonderful experiences all through school."

The End of an Era

Reflecting on her time working in the Princeton schools, Ms. Drummond said one of her most memorable moments was when the staff threw her a surprise 25th anniversary party during secretary's week.

"I was stunned because I was the person who usually put things like that together," she said.

On her 50th anniversary with the district, Ms. Drummond was honored twice: first with a party from the staff, and then by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) for her 50 years of service in education.

Looking toward her retirement, Ms. Drummond said she anticipates "decompressing and tending to things at home, and just settling down and getting into a routine." She added that she is also making plans to take a trip to Italy next August.

In addition, she said she may volunteer for some area organizations, including one that helps homeless animals.

"I haven't really thought beyond that," she said, joking that one of the things she is looking forward to most is not setting an alarm to get up for school on January 2.

"She's been the most stellar example to me as a working mother," said her daughter, Stacy Drummond. "There's no one I look up to more than her," she added, mentioning how much she has admired her mother's work ethic over the years.

Now, with only a few short months before the end of a 53-year career, Ms. Drummond said it's time to let someone else have a turn at her job.

"Leaving was the toughest decision I've had to make because I love what I do," she said. "But all good things must come to an end."

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