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Influence beyond her job's description

Published March 16, 2007


Gerald Joyce McKinley's official title at Buckhorn Elementary School is head custodian, but she's more than that to the students.

McKinley is the smiling face that greets them in the morning, the confidant they talk to at lunch and the friend who makes them shout, "Ms. Joyce! Ms. Joyce!" when they see her at the mall.

McKinley's pleasant demeanor and 17 years of service at the Valrico school helped her earn the Brandon Rotary '86 Club's annual Most Valuable Employee Award, and a seat next to me at lunch.

Over various choices at the Golden Corral restaurant, we talked about work, students and growing up in Plant City as one of 14 children.

Pull up a chair and join us. My father was named Gerald, my brother is named Gerald, but I've never met a woman named Gerald. How did that come about?

My mother said that's the name she and dad came up with. When you say Gerald, you think of a boy, so I have to show my identification. At work, they put both names together. I love that. It's not uncommon to see school district employees transfer to different schools, but you've been at Buckhorn for 17 years. Have you ever wanted to work at a different school?

I'm okay where I am and I love where I [work.] I've had the chance to transfer to other schools, but I love Buckhorn. I love the faculty, the staff, the students and the parents. The parents work with us. They're really involved with the activities at the school and that's wonderful. So you keep the school clean, but you also work with the children?

I have a lot of children [who] come see me. They call me Ms. Joyce. They share things with me that they don't always share with the teachers. We talk and they are fun. Sometimes all a child needs is someone to listen because you don't know how a child feels when he or she comes to school. There's an uplift you can give them that will make a world of difference. It really can. Is it difficult getting the kids to talk to you?

Many times when they come over, I just listen. I'm there with them all the time because I'm in the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch, and I see them in between. You know, with children it's amazing when they talk to you because sometimes children won't do that. It even amazes me sometimes. They'll say, 'Hello, how was your weekend?' And if I'm at the mall, my name is heard over and over. You have 13 brothers and sisters. What's it like when you guys get together?

It's a tremendous gathering. I have two brothers who have 2 acres and own their own homes, so we have a lot of activities out there. I love it. It's what I know. We support each other. My mother and my father wouldn't have it any other way. Who cooks for all those people?

All the ladies cook. The men do the meats, mostly on the grill. We have two huge grills that we keep ready all the time. They always want me to fix collard greens, sweet potato pie and potato salad. I'm told you always have a smile on your face. Where does that come from?

People say my mother was like that. I really don't know. I guess it's how I am. I'm just myself. I believe if I have a job to perform, that's what I should do with a smile. DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest

Gerald Joyce has been married for 27 years to her husband, Oscar, and she is the Sunday school secretary at Pentecostal Church of God in Plant City. She has no children of her own, but between the kids at Buckhorn, the Sunday school students and her 52 nieces and nephews, I would say she has plenty.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section. He can be reached at 813 226-3406 or

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 07:26:58]

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