Harper’s Unsung Heroes

June 2024

Written by Gale Fischer 

Leading From Behind the Scenes

“She’s called the secretary, but as far as I can tell she basically runs the school.”

—Rebecca Stead

Leadership takes on many roles in our schools. Veteran teachers often mentor young teachers, although teachers just a few years into it can also provide guidance to their colleagues. Our building principals are called to take on the bulk of management in our schools, but guidance can come from all of our school staff, either formally or informally. School secretaries are just another example of employees taking on leadership roles. Their job responsibilities go beyond answering phones, keeping track of attendance, and all of the other clerical tasks needed to keep a school running. They are the first line of contact for individuals entering our buildings, providing a smile and a positive greeting. They are there to provide a hug and a reassuring word for kids who are not feeling well. School secretaries are the school mom, doing all of the little things that keep the ship afloat. Wattles Park secretary, Corenna Turnbull, is in her first year as secretary for Wattles Park, but she has overcome the learning curve of a new job rather quickly, performing her duties as if she has been holding down the fort for years. 

Corenna has called the Cereal City her home her entire life. She reflects on her childhood. “I was born in Battle Creek in 1985, the first child of  Cile and Steve Lake. My brother Shane was born two years after me. We lived in Pennfield until I was nine years old and I attended Pennfield Schools through sixth grade.”  Corenna and her family moved to Harper Creek in 1999, just as she started Middle School. She has been a member of the Harper Creek community ever since. 

Corenna’s childhood reflections center around time spent with family. “My favorite memories from childhood involve camping and boating with my family. We would drive up to Cadilac almost every weekend during the summer and camp at William Mitchell State Park. We spent hours on the boat on Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. Tubing and fishing were also favorite activities during our stays at William Mitchell State Park.”  Corenna describes how camping and enjoying the outdoors were not restricted to the summer months for her and her family. “We would travel to Northern Michigan in the winter and camp as well. We liked to snowmobile, ice-fish, and ice skate.” Although Corenna’s parents don’t own a boat any longer they continue to enjoy camping. They recently purchased a new motor home and spend much of their retirement camping. 

Camping with her parents and her brother was a huge part of her childhood. She describes how the importance of family expanded beyond her parents and her brother. “As a child, I also enjoyed spending time at my grandparents' house with my cousins. We would gather at their house every Sunday morning for breakfast. They had a pool and we all enjoyed playing in the water. There were ten cousins all together. We were all very close.” 

Sometimes starting up in a new school can present challenges for children but Corenna describes how the transition from Pennfield Schools to Harper Creek went more smoothly than one might expect. “The timing of starting up in a new school was perfect. I was entering Middle School, but I wasn’t the only student in a new environment. All three elementary buildings were also merging with the entire seventh-grade population being introduced to a new set of classmates .”  It proved to be an exciting time for Corenna. “I loved school and enjoyed the time with friends. I’ve always been a social butterfly and being able to hang out with my friends was one of the things I loved most about school.” 

Attending Harper Creek Middle School was a source of joy for Corenna. Her high school years provided just as much happiness. She reflects on the social opportunities she was exposed to as a high school student. “Athletics were an important part of my teenage years.” Sports was another way for Corenna to be with her friends. Being active was a byproduct. “I participated in sports to keep myself busy. It fed into my social butterfly personality. I still have many friends from high school teammates that I keep in contact with.” The friendships made were important for Corenna but influence came from more than her peers. “My softball coach was Chris Barnes and my swim coach was Korin Popps (Buck). These coaches had a big impact on my life.”

Corenna made the transition from high school to college after graduation. She reflects on this next phase in her life. “After graduating from high school I enrolled at KCC. I was interested in a business career.” After a few semesters at KCC, a job opportunity came her way, and just like that her career began. “I was offered a job and started working at Battle Creek Health Systems in 2005 as a legal assistant. I worked under two of the hospital’s attorneys. The focus of the work that we did centered around patient rights. We also dealt with all of the hospital’s legal contracts.”

Not long after starting her job with Battle Creek Health Systems, Corenna’s world would shift to another adult transition. She describes the beginning of her relationship with her future husband. “My husband Tommy is also a Harper Creek graduate. He was four grades ahead of me. I knew of him from high school but we really hadn’t had any interaction at that time. Tommy and I were formally introduced to each other in 2006. We went together to a wedding on a blind date.” Corenna hadn’t expected the blind date with Tommy to lead to another date. Both she and Tommy would be surprised at how well they connected with each other. “Our first date wasn’t what I expected. We laughed and we danced all night. I hadn’t anticipated having such a fun time. It blindsided me. We began dating and were engaged a year later. We were married a year after our engagement in 2008.”

Tommy and Corenna started a family immediately which boosted their connection as a young married couple. Corenna reflects on being a mom. “Tommy and I have been blessed with three children with Teegan being born in 2007, Carter in 2009, and  Bella in 2014. Becoming a mom has been the best feeling I have had in my entire life. I love being my kids’ biggest fan. I love the relationships I have with them. I love taking care of them and helping them understand the world that we live in. Being a mom has been the highlight of my life.”

Like Corenna, Tommy played sports in high school. Corenna describes Tommy as being a jock and a great athlete. He played baseball, basketball, and football. Corenna talks about experiencing her children following in her and Tommy’s footsteps as athletes. “Bella plays softball, Carter participates in basketball, track, and football and he will soon be starting martial arts. Teegan plays football, baseball, and basketball. Tommy and I enjoy being a part of this experience with our children. Tommy helps coach some of the kid’s sports teams. He is very involved with the kids and their participation in sports. Our life is busy and our house has a revolving door.”

Sports is a big part of their lives but there are other activities the Turnbulls enjoy sharing together. “As a family, we love vacationing. We usually take one big trip each summer. We are huge baseball fans and have made a goal to see each major league baseball stadium. We have watched games in four different stadiums. The coolest stadium we have been to is the one in Washington DC. We are also huge U of M fans.”

As a young adult, the job with Battle Creek Health Systems was a great opportunity for Corenna. The pay was good and going to work every day was something she always looked forward to. She describes the positive part of her job and also the challenges it entailed. “I really enjoyed working there. Eventually, I decided to get my notary license so that I could sign for patients for power of attorney. As a notary signing for patient power of attorney, I often witnessed the emotional side of this.” Conflict between the patient and other family members in honoring a patient’s request in the late stages of life is difficult to avoid. No one wants to see a family member suffer but granting their wishes in cutting life-support is hard to deal with as well. 

 After a few years as a legal assistant, Corenna moved into a new position. She explains this transition. “In 2008 I was offered a different job within Battle Creek Health Systems and I began working as the executive secretary to the Chief Nursing Officer. The bulk of my job duties involved working with the board of trustees. I also helped to organize activities and other things for hospital staff. The emphasis for this was to boost and maintain employee morale.”

Corenna remained as executive secretary for the Chief Nursing Officer for fifteen years. It was a role that she enjoyed and she put her heart and soul into it, but recently she felt it was time for a change. She describes what brought her to Harper Creek and Wattles Park Elementary. “The hospital had been going through financial stress. I was afraid of possibly being laid off so when the executive assistant position at Wattles Park became available, the timing seemed perfect. I have always wanted to work in an elementary building and have an impact on kids in this age group. They are special and their hearts are pure.” As a young child, Corenna had spent time behind the scenes in an elementary school. “My aunt used to be an elementary school secretary so I would spend time with her at her job and always enjoyed being in that setting.” 

The convenience that came with working at Wattles Park was something that also attracted Corenna to the job. “Our youngest child, Bella is a third-grade student here at Wattles. I love being able to go to work with her every day and will miss it when she moves on to Middle School. Although my two other children don’t attend school here I am able to be on the same schedule with them for the most part with holidays and breaks. Carter is an eighth grader in the Middle School and Teegan, our oldest is in tenth grade.” 

Working for the hospital was something that fit Corenna well and she will always appreciate the years spent there but being here at Wattles Park has provided a new experience. It has been a great source of fulfillment for her. “I have learned a lot being here. Some kids just need a hug sometimes. Some kids crave this adult compassion. It has been rewarding seeing how much kids get excited when participating with them in activities. Being around the kids is the best part of the job.” 

Education has truly evolved over the years. Schools are called to support the growth and development of the whole child. Teachers have the biggest impact in doing this in terms of the amount of time spent directly, teaching, mentoring, and nurturing students but the responsibility to support our student population goes beyond our teaching staff. All of our employees play a role and secretaries are no different. The clerical duties in their job description are obvious but this just scratches the surface of what they do every day. For any adult entering our buildings, the secretary is there to set a positive tone. A secretary providing a hug, a smile, or a word of encouragement can be just the thing a child needs to make the day a positive one. Secretaries are the glue that holds the building together. Corenna has stepped into this role beautifully for Wattles Park, making a positive impact for our students, parents, administration, and staff, just as the secretaries before her have done.

Gale Fischer has spent most of his career as a special education teacher for Wattles Park Elementary dating back to 2001. He is an avid runner and began writing the stories of local runners twelve years ago. Many of these stories have appeared in the Battle Creek Shopper and the Battle Creek Scene Magazine. Recently he started capturing the stories of Harper Creek staff members. His column, Harper Unsung Heros, features a different staff member each month . He believes that everyone has a story that can inspire others.

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Take a look at what is going on this summer at HCCS. 

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