By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER – Officially, Shirley Kern works as a noon attendant at Thomson Elementary School, but she does a heck of a lot more than that, according to the educators who work with her.
Besides keeping order in the cafeteria and making sure students leave their tables clean, she reads to kindergartners and first-graders, helps out in the office – and on one occasion saved a student’s life, Principal Lorene Marx said.
Last Thursday morning, Assistant Superintendent Gregg Gilligan, Marx, the teachers and the students showed their appreciation for Kern by throwing a surprise 84th birthday party for her. Her birthday is actually on Christmas.
They held the observance in the schoolyard, just before the kids came in from morning recess.
“We have a very special day today,” said Gilligan, who ran Thomson until his promotion took effect July 1. After revealing she’s about to turn 84, Gilligan credited Kern with doing “an awesome job at Thomson for 20 years” and said she “always has a smile for everybody.”
“I can’t believe it,” Kern said. Gilligan presented her with a citation from the School Department and a student gave her flowers.
“Let’s hope we’re all going this strong at 84,” Gilligan said.
The students sang a birthday song: “All day long...this is the day that Mrs. Kern was born.”
Kern retired from Digital, where she worked as a buyer, at 62. She wasn’t quite ready to retire completely, however.
“The children keep me going,” she explained. “I just love it.” She said she does not have any plans to retire from her position any time soon.
“We love her here and appreciate everything she does,” said Marx, who noted that six years ago, Kern was on duty when a child was stung by a hornet – and did not have an EpiPen.
Kern brought the child into the nurse’s office, where she received the appropriate treatment, Marx said.
Kern’s daughters, Donna DiNinno of Leominster and Kathleen Sullivan of Kingston, N.H., visited the school yesterday. The family used to live in South Lawrence.
They said their mother stays active by walking her dog every day and has “a very positive outlook on life.”
Kern, who has three grandsons and a granddaughter, now resides in Haverhill.
“We’re lucky to have her,” Gilligan said.