It is said when people retire institutional knowledge goes with them. That will be the case when Pat Gnaster leaves her desk at Homewood-Flossmoor High School after 20 years.
Gnaster retires June 30 from the administrative offices where she’s served as the superintendent’s executive assistant since 2007.
“I’ll be sad to go, but not because I have to go, just because of the relationships that I’ve made and the people that I respect here,” from the superintendent down to support staff. “I’ve been privileged and honored to work for them. It won’t be hard to go but it will be sad to go.”
Hundreds of people have been at her desk. She can recall past faculty and staff, many graduates and former District 233 board members.
“Since 1959, H-F’s vision and mission, which is dedicated to ensuring excellence in education, remains intact, strong and purposeful,” Gnaster said. “I can confidently say that we all continue to give our very best to make sure that any student walking in our door will get the very best of what we have to offer.”
Gnaster knows the history of H-F because she’s kept the records all these years. She is diligent in making certain the oldest records from the 1950s through the current school board minutes are safely kept and in order.
She came to H-F in 2003 after working at South Suburban Hospital. Her first H-F position was assistant to the director of curriculum and instruction, and in 2007 she became executive assistant to the superintendent. She has been the person behind three superintendents – Laura Murray, Von Mansfield and Scott Wakeley.
“I’m honored that I got to work here for 20 years. H-F is a unique place,” she said. “It’s been an honor to work under the leadership of three truly dedicated leaders.”
She says the same about the school board, “made up of very, very, very fine members. They are consummate professionals who had a clear sense of the direction that H-F should be going in. I think that’s why H-F has flourished, because of the board.”
Gnaster has been the board secretary working with board presidents Jodi Scariano, Rick Lites, Steve Anderson and Gerald Pauling. During her tenure, she missed only two school board meetings – quite a record when you consider she’s taken the minutes at 192 regular board meetings since 2007.
She never missed a board special meeting, or a board committee meeting. If you’d add on minutes for the board’s quarterly committee meetings to her total, the number is rather staggering.
Yes, Gnaster has proved that she has excellent secretarial skills, but her job has been so much more.
“I really tend to the daily operations of this office, and I oversee the operations of this office. Anything that I can do to help the superintendent focus on things that are really important, with his leadership,” she said. That means she handles everything “from correspondence to travel to answering calls from the community….It’s very busy. I prepare for (a variety of) meetings, and the leadership team meets weekly.”
Her work over the years has not gone unnoticed. She received the 2019 Illinois Association of School Boards Holly Jack Award For Outstanding Service recognizing “extraordinary work and service provided by administrative professionals who assist their local boards.” She was nominated by Superintendent Von Mansfield and members of the school board.
This year Gnaster was honored with an award in the support staff category from the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association. She was recommended for the honor by Superintendent Scott Wakeley and school board members.
Gnaster and her husband, Joe, are former Chicago Heights residents. They will be enjoying time at their home on a lake in Northwest Indiana staying close to their two daughters and grandchildren who live within driving distance. Their son and a grandson live in Florida.
Once she’s left H-F, Gnaster said: “I’d like to be remembered as someone who upheld H-F’s vision and mission, demonstrated the characteristics of the Profile of a Viking and who promoted, supported and celebrated the success of our students, staff, administration, and the board of education over the last 20 years.
“Most importantly as someone who is a good steward, someone who puts service before self, and someone who was truly a proud Viking.”