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KIRTLAND — The woman many consider the heart of the former Grace B. Wilson Elementary School will retire after 50 years of working for the Central Consolidated School District.

Judy Nelson, the longtime secretary at the school, is retiring June 6 after helping generations of students check into classes and find lost items, as well as listening to stories and providing kind words.

"This is the hard part of retiring. I'm going to miss the children so much. …It was a difficult decision, but it's one that I needed to do," Nelson said in an interview Friday.

Throughout her employment, which started on Jan. 3, 1967, she worked in the front office. She remembers when Grace B. Wilson was located near the district’s Kirtland Business Office and when it moved to the current location in 1985.

"I like being here and helping them. Making a difference, hopefully, in their lives. There's lots of children that need extra nurturing, and sometimes a hug helps," Nelson said.

She is looking forward to retirement because she has projects to complete at home in Fruitland, and she wants to spend time with her husband, Joseph Nelson Sr.

"I've been up here for lots of hours, for lots of years," she said adding she has an open invitation to volunteer at the school.

This school year, Grace B. Wilson transitioned to Judy Nelson Elementary School after the district combined Grace B. Wilson and the former Ruth N. Bond Elementary School.

The combined school houses students from kindergarten through sixth grade, and the school board approved naming the new school in Nelson's honor last April. The name will be carried to the new facility the district is building on the site of Ruth N. Bond, which was demolished last year.

Nelson’s daughter, Stephanie Myers, was a second-grader at Grace B. Wilson when her mother started working. Myers went on to work alongside her mother in the front office for 18 years. One of Nelson’s grandchildren, Angela Sloane, works there, as well, and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended the school.

“I hope the school will survive without her,” Myers said with a chuckle.

Nelson's impact on the school was evident Friday when she was stopped by students and parents during a luncheon to mark the last day of school. She also paused to help a student find a misplaced backpack and assisted parents in checking out their children.

Manuel Dan remembers Nelson when he attended Grace B. Wilson in the early 1980s.

"Judy is like the sunshine. You walk in and see her smiling and waving. A nice lady," Dan said.

Alexandra Tso was a student from fourth through sixth grade in the early 2000s and now has two daughters going there.

"Every time we'd come in the morning, she'd say, 'Good morning,'" Tso said about her days as a student.

"It was nice to see a familiar face from when I went to school here," she added.

Twenty-five employees are retiring from CCSD at the end of the school year, according to the district’s human resources department. CCSD spokesman James Preminger said Nelson is the longest-serving employee among the current personnel.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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