Yesterday was the last day of the year for Carroll County students, and the last day of long careers for East Middle School Principal Donald Reck and secretary Arlene DeVivo.
"They're like an institution in this place," said Virginia Ashmore, assistant principal.
Mr. Reck is retiring after 37 years in Carroll County schools. He started as an eighth-grade math and science teacher at what was then called Manchester Elementary and Junior High School. He has been principal at East Middle for the past 21 years. Mrs. DeVivo has been at the school 23 years.
"I think he epitomizes the traditional principal that's very professional, very attuned to following policies closely, very task-oriented and really dedicated to his school," said Peter B. McDowell, Carroll schools director of secondary education.
"He's a good teacher of principals," said Donald Pyles, once Mr. Reck's assistant at East Middle and now principal at Sykesville Middle School.
Mr. Reck's past assistants include two others who became principals: Richard DeLong at North Carroll Middle and Jeffrey Kimble at New Windsor Middle.
Mrs. Ashmore said Mr. Reck has been a mentor who always reminds her to think ahead.
"He takes care of today's details, but he's always forward-thinking. He's said this to me before, 'Where do we need be five years from now?' "
He led a staff that put a focus on teaching children to think, not just memorize, several years before the rest of the county was doing it, she said.
She said he was enmeshed in the life of the school.
"I've never seen him miss an event," Mrs. Ashmore said. "There isn't a band performance, a PTA meeting, a trip, that he's missed."
"That's the fun part," Mr. Reck said, adding that he usually had to miss day trips with students, but tried to make the evening events and weekend trips such as the one with students last week to Hershey Park.
He also has taken eighth-graders to ski in Pennsylvania every winter. An avid skier himself, he wanted to give students a chance to try it.
A gentle-natured but firm principal, Mr. Reck several years ago was in a scary situation: two groups of boys were facing off outside the school during the lunch hour, in what had been planned as a rumble. They had knives and chains and other weapons.
Mr. Reck walked up and down the aisle they formed, informing them that anyone who took a step forward would be suspended. They stood still, and he continued to walk up and down the aisle until the lunch bell rang, and the tension defused.
"Don is a decisive man," Mr. Pyles said. "He makes up his mind and you know just by looking at him he means what he says. I have not seen many children that didn't do what he wanted."
Each had their reasons for retiring: Mrs. DeVivo wants to spend ** more time with her retired husband, children and grandchildren, and Mr. Reck and his wife want to sail and pursue a host of things they never had time for while he was principal. Gerri Reck is a teacher at Mechanicsville Elementary School.
But Mrs. Ashmore said she suspects that as each started to talk about retiring, they influenced each other.
"I think the thought of being there without her convinced him to go," Mrs. Ashmore said.
"Mrs. DeVivo can do five things at one time," Mrs. Ashmore said. "Answering the telephone, answering the intercom, greeting a parent who walks in and typing can all happen at the same time, and she can handle it. I have a sense we can never really replace her."