Praising Ms. Kay: County school system honors long-time employee battling cancer
Published 10:02 am Saturday, March 14, 2015
Bulldogs are known for their fighting spirit – and at Hampton Elementary, those bulldogs don’t let their friends fight alone.
On Tuesday, the students and staff of Hampton Elementary, along with system administrators and board of education members, paid tribute to Kay Church, affectionately known as Ms. Kay, as she fights her battle with cancer.
Until recently, Ms. Kay was the cafeteria manager at the elementary school but her illness has forced her to step away from her work.
For more than 30 years, Ms. Kay fed the children of Carter County, first at Valley Forge Elementary School, then at the now defunct Siam Middle School before settling in at Hampton Elementary School where she has been ever since.
“She’s the only one who has been here since this school opened,” said HES Principal Becky Raulston. “We’ve been in this new school for 20 years and she’s been here the entire time.”
Having had a constant presence at the cafeteria since it opened, the Board of Education and the school system thought there was no better way to honor Ms. Kay than to name the kitchen and cafeteria for her.
When Ms. Kay’s husband Rick Church and daughter Cindy Church Stevenson brought her to Hampton Elementary on Tuesday, Ms. Kay had no idea what was waiting for her in the cafeteria.
When her family brought her in, she was greeted by cheers and applause from students, staff and school officials.
Faculty and staff at the school were sporting t-shirts – in Hampton blue of course – that said “Friends don’t let friends fight cancer alone” on the front.
The back of the shirt contained the message “Pray for Kay” and the Bible verse Phillipians 4:13 “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me.”
The walls of the cafeteria were lined with messages of support from the students, and a large blue and white sign hung above the kitchen door that proudly proclaimed it as “Ms. Kay’s Kitchen”. A framed portrait of Ms. Kay was hung on the wall near where students enter the cafeteria and underneath her picture, is a plaque that reads “To honor and recognize the dedication and commitment of Kay Church. Her unconditional love for children has appropriately earned her the name Ms. Kay.”
After arriving, Ms. Kay and her family were led to the wall to see the portrait and plaque and were shown the sign over the kitchen door.
Director of Schools Kevin Ward hugged Ms. Kay and spoke briefly to her and her family before addressing the crowd.
Ward, who was named principal of Hampton Elementary 1996, remembered when he got to know Ms. Kay.
“She was a very good lady who I realized very quickly took care of the kids every day,” Ward said. “There was no kid who came through hungry that didn’t leave here with a belly full. She made sure of that.”
One of the reasons for the ceremony on Tuesday, Ward said, was so the school staff, students and others could tell Ms. Kay just how much they loved her.
“We really appreciate the 32 years plus that she has dedicated to the schools and the children,” Ward said.
“It’s been worth it,” Ms. Kay said in reply.
During the ceremony, Raulston and eighth grade teacher Kristi Davenport presented Ms. Kay with a special quilt in the school colors of blue and white.
The quilt had been signed by all the students in the fifth through eighth grades.
“She always made sure the kids got fed and if they didn’t have food at home, she would make sure they had it there too,” Raulston said. “We will never forget all of the wonderful things she has done for our students. She made sure kids had Christmas and made sure they were taken care of in every possible way.”
“That is an irreplaceable attribute,” Raulston added. “We will never be able to replace Ms. Kay.”
And not only was Ms. Kay a great lunch lady, Raulston said, her skill as a dentist was legendary.
“All of the students went to her to have their teeth pulled,” Raulston said. “I’ve had parents call and said their kid wouldn’t let them pull their tooth because they wanted Ms. Kay to do it.”
Ms. Kay and her family cried with emotion as the students and staff praised their favorite lunch lady.
“It just means so much what you have done for me today,” Ms. Kay said.
As Ms. Kay left, the students wiped away tears and waved to her. Many hugged her and offered words of encouragement.
Some students hugged each other in comfort.
Ms. Kay’s daughter Cindy Church Stevenson described the outpouring of support for her mother and her family as a “humbling” experience.
“Just to see these kids crying and know how she has touched their lives, validates the caring and compassionate woman that she is,” Stevenson said.