After 20 Years, Ms. Powell Gets Ready to Move On From Her “Way of Life” at La Salle

Ms.+Powell+waves+to+students+at+a+recent+%22Be+the+Light%22+night.

Julia Tran

Ms. Powell waves to students at a recent "Be the Light" night.

Brooklyn Chillemi, Assistant Editor

Every day while on campus, students and staff of La Salle recognize Attendance Secretary Ms. Judi Powell as one of the two faces that greet them on their way into the building each morning. Ms. Powell has been working at La Salle for 20 years, and now, at the end of this school year, she is retiring. 

In addition to the fact that she has worked at the school for the last two decades, some may also know that Ms. Powell attended La Salle when she was younger. She was a member of the second graduating class of La Salle, graduating in 1971.

“When I was a freshman, it was just freshmen and sophomores, so the whole other half of the school was completely empty,” Ms. Powell said. “And then we filled it up.” 

Being a part of the second graduating class meant that Ms. Powell and her fellow students had the opportunity to vote on the name of the school yearbook. They chose to name it “Accipiter,” meaning “hawk” or “bird of prey” like a falcon, the name that the yearbook still has to this day.

“Everybody just got along really well because we were really close,” Ms. Powell said. “There was not very many of us the first year, and then my senior year the school in North Portland burned down… so all the seniors came to La Salle and graduated with us.” 

Ms. Powell said she “had a really good time” while attending La Salle, and later moved on to attend college for two years at Mt. Hood Community College before getting married.

She had four children who also attended La Salle, starting in 1988, in addition to her nieces, nephews, and brothers-in-law.

Ms. Powell worked at a few different Portland Public schools before La Salle, helping children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Then, when she heard La Salle was in need of an attendance secretary, she decided to step in for the job.

“I thought that’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard, that I would go back to work at my high school,” Ms. Powell said. “I never thought it would be anything that I would ever have [the] opportunity to do.” 

When Ms. Powell was a student, the office secretary was Ms. Mary Jo Dobler. “I always thought it would be such a cool job to work in the main office,” Ms. Powell said. “And then it happened.”

Ms. Powell said that her job at La Salle was based on providence, or the guidance of God over our lives and the Earth. “I just remember knowing that that’s what I was going to do,” Ms. Powell said. “When I found out there was an opening, I thought, ‘yep, that’s where I belong.’” 

Ms. Powell said that interactions with students have been her favorite part of working at La Salle. But now with the COVID-19 outbreak and digital learning being completed at home, parents email Ms. Powell when students are ill and she informs teachers about their absence from school work for that day. 

“I miss the interaction with parents, and talking to them on the phone and talking to the kids when they come in, even the late ones,” Ms. Powell said. “That’s kind of what La Salle is – it’s just family.” 

President and Principal Mr. Andrew Kuffner echoed this feeling of family and said that he would often marvel at how many people Ms. Powell would welcome into the school community by name and with a personal story about who they were.

“This is so very Lasallian,” he said. “To be known and to know, just like a family… I have always felt that Ms. Powell’s presence in the main office, often the first stop for visitors and the community, was a gift.” 

Ms. Powell has worked under three principals including Mr. Kuffner during her time at La Salle. She said that the key to working somewhere for so long is to “do something you love, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”

Ms. Powell sees her work at La Salle as “a way of life,” she said. “I’ve never, ever, not one day, not wanted to go to work.” 

Ms. Powell said that part of staying at La Salle for so long was the people who have impacted her life during her time working in the main office, especially Ms. Rhonda Fisher, La Salle’s Main Office Secretary. Ms. Fisher started working at La Salle a year before Ms. Powell. “We had a lot of laughs together,” Ms. Fisher said. 

Ms. Powell said that she and Ms. Fisher have been together “longer than most married couples… I couldn’t have picked a better partner.”

Ms. Powell and Ms. Fisher have even attended previous students’ weddings together. “It just seemed like we were always in a package, we were a package deal,” Ms. Fisher said.

Ms. Fisher said that one thing she especially admires about Ms. Powell is that she is very compassionate with students and their families. “She would be stern with the students when they needed it, but was also loving and compassionate just like a mother would be,” Ms. Fisher said. 

Ms. Fisher said she will “miss her like crazy.”

“It has always been Rhonda and Judi,” she said. “It’s going to be a sad day when I walk in that office and she’s not going to be there.”

Similarly, Ms. Powell said that she is sad to leave Ms. Fisher and the rest of the La Salle community. “It’s really hard,” Ms. Powell said. “It is really difficult to leave… My family follows me around with tissues because I cry all the time.” However, she said that she feels that it is her time to go. 

After La Salle, Ms. Powell plans on traveling with her husband. They plan to go to California at the beginning of the school year, and then drive around the United States. While traveling, Ms. Powell plans to take all of her photos and organize them together in order to trace back her family’s history and genealogy. 

She said that she doesn’t want to forget the past, but that if she had one piece of advice to give to students, it would be to enjoy where you are now.

“Don’t try to look back,” she said. “Look forward and have a plan, but have a good time of what you’re doing.” 

Ms. Powell said that when she attended La Salle, at the beginning they didn’t have things like football or drama. “I wish I had gotten involved with drama,” she said. “I wish I had done a lot of things, you know, but you just kind of get nervous about putting yourself out there… But put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid. People will still love you.”