MNPS Voices: Joyce Callis

MNPS Voices: Joyce Callis, Office Support Substitute
Posted on 03/10/2022
J Callis portrait at school

Before reading this, could you have spelled eleemosynary? Well, neither could 19-year-old Joyce Callis as she interviewed with W.A. Bass, superintendent of Nashville City Schools, for a job as a secretary in 1957. 

Bass, a spirited man, enjoyed a good laugh at the Nashville Business College student’s expense. J Callis portrait

“He dictated a letter to me, with me taking shorthand, and I had to transcribe it on an antique typewriter,” said Callis. “When he then asked me if I could spell eleemosynary, I told him I did not have the slightest idea of how to spell it. He threw back his head and had a good laugh. I guess he liked me, because I got the job.”

Even if she wasn’t too familiar with a word that means “charitable,” this was the beginning of Callis’ 64-year career with our city’s public schools before Nashville City Schools merged with Davidson County Schools to form MNPS in 1964.

Callis would serve seven years as a secretary for two superintendents before transferring to social work and attendance roles following the merger of the two districts. She remained in that department for seven years, transcribing school social workers’ notes with students from Dictaphones. Callis enjoyed her work – she recalls great people in an easy-to-work environment – but the interviews were sad, to say the least.

In 1983, following an illness that had her out over a summer, Callis transferred as a secretary to Pupil Personnel Services with director Dr. Jim Zerface and clinical psychologist Dr. Warren Thompson.

“They made many a day bright with their humor and good nature,” said Callis. “I thoroughly enjoyed working for them all 18 years. Dr. Zerface retired around 1999, and I retired in 2000. But not for long.”

Callis left retirement one year later to be an office support substitute.

“In my previous 43 years, I had never had a lot of exposure to the kids in the schools,” she said. “I had never worked with school personnel and was very touched by the way the teachers do so much for their children, sometimes spending some of their own money for treats and classroom extras.”

Callis, a great-grandmother, enjoys the flexibility that substituting gives her to care for her husband of 67 years, who is battling dementia. The people and the kids are what keep her coming back.

“Kids are so honest in saying what they think,” said Callis. “I was assisting in the cafeteria, and a little boy in the second grade asked me about these spots on my hand. I told him I had them because of my age. He looked puzzled and asked, ‘How old are you?’ He laughed when I told him: real old.”

Callis, a 1956 honors graduate of Cohn High School, will celebrate her 84th birthday this month, is in relatively good health and does not take any daily medication. Her hobbies, gardening and mowing her own lawn, would require someone half her age to be physically fit.

While she’s now considering a full retirement, she’s still going strong.

“Joyce’s service and longevity to our community within MNPS is admirable,” said Chad High, an MNPS executive director who works closely with elementary schools. “She has served thousands of students, parents and staff during her time with MNPS, and I am grateful for her service.”

“I have enjoyed about 64 years with the school system and have enjoyed it all, but you can’t work forever, so soon I may have to stop,” Callis said. “But it’s all been good!”

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