Day after day, week after week, year after year, kids at Ebinger Elementary see the same face when they get to school.
“Good morning!” Mariana Myers tells them, greeting each student by name.
She’s often the first there, by 6:30 a.m. And she’s one of the last to leave — whenever her principal does — around 6 p.m or later.
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Myers has worked as the clerk at Ebinger on the Northwest Side for more than two decades. This fall, she celebrates 45 years at the school in various roles. And with 47 years overall working for the Chicago Public Schools, she’s the longest-serving Latina in the system.
“They ask — the staff, or even parents — ‘When are you going to retire?’ ” Myers said. “And I say, ‘I don’t know. Maybe one more year. And maybe one more year.’ And it keeps going.”
Myers preferred that her age not be published. Though she is past retirement age, her energy and wits wouldn’t say so. Parents and staff say she knows the answer to every question and keeps the school running.
She has seen students graduate and become parents and send their kids to Ebinger. Some even have grandkids at the school now.
Myers has worked with nine principals. She thinks she’s missed two days in her 45 years, both for doctor’s appointments that, despite her efforts, couldn’t be scheduled outside of school hours.
She loses unused time off every year but says she’d rather be at school. Her only family in the area is her son, one of her three children. They spend time together and go out for meals.
“But I don’t have any other activities,” Myers said. “The only place is my school.”
She started in 1976 as a cafeteria worker cleaning dishes in a school kitchen. That position was removed from the budget two years later, so she found a new job at Ebinger as a bus aide. After several years she became a school assistant. And about 25 or 30 years ago — she doesn’t remember the exact year — she took the job as the school clerk.
Along with greeting kids in the morning, Myers does payroll, internal accounts and purchasing, and sometimes she answers the main office phone. She’s been on the local school council for a decade — which she enjoys “even though sometimes I don’t say too much.”
Principal Michelle Nash is in her second year in charge and said she wouldn’t have made it through the first one without Myers. The clerk is “everything that everybody loves about Ebinger.”
“She just is this welcoming force that puts everybody at ease,” Nash said. “She just really takes the time to listen to what people need,” even with stressors in people’s personal lives.
“She’ll stop everything and just make them feel like the only person in the room,” Nash said.
Kathy Murphy, a sixth grade language and literature teacher, has worked with Myers for 32 years. The two share a hug every Friday. Murphy calls the clerk the “heart and soul” of the school and the “mother hen” — as evidenced by the door to the main office that’s decorated with notes of appreciation for Myers from staff and students.
When Murphy had her first daughter 23 years ago, she still remembers the “flowery and beautiful” dress Myers had waiting for her newborn.
“That’s how I see Ms. Myers, is just a flower that’s always blooming,” Myers said. “I can always count on her. She’s more than just someone I work with.”
Parents say they’re amazed by Myers’ ability to answer questions and the level of empathy and care she shows kids.
Lauren Walsh’s son is a third grader with special learning needs and diabetes. She’s always talking to the main office.
“Response time is really critical for us,” Walsh said. “She always has the information I need when I need it. Always very friendly, always very helpful.
“I get a lot of calls about low blood sugar, and those are things that are really dangerous,” Walsh added. “When you have low blood sugar for a kid, it’s really scary. And she’s very reassuring.”
Walsh’s brother-in-law, John Walsh, has three children at Ebinger, the oldest a seventh grader, so he’s known Myers for years.
“She knows every kid, even the kids who graduated and come back.”
The kids are the main reason she’s still here, Myers said. Staff and families treat her well. And she’s never thought of leaving Ebinger.
Being a clerk is not what she does, Myers said, “It’s who I am.”