Story and photos by Amy Garza
In this day and age of fast-paced living and instant gratification, you don’t often find people staying in the same job for more than five years anymore. With ever-evolving modern technology, jobs seem to change along with the times. With new jobs come new people to fill them – a revolving door of positions and employees. This is not the case for two Tempe Elementary employees, who finally decided to call it quits after a combined service of 104 years.
Meet Dottie and Ernie.
Dottie Clothier just celebrated her 90th birthday, but meeting her you wouldn’t guess she was even in her seventies. She is a spunky, bubbly, sweet, happy-go-lucky lady, who is always smiling or giggling. Her co-workers who know her best describe her as “spunky, funny, generous, loyal, energetic, and amazing.”
Clothier started working for Tempe Elementary as a third-grade teacher in 1956. She began her career at Ritter School, one of the first three schools in the Tempe Elementary School District, which has long since closed. After two-and-a-half years at Ritter, Clothier then taught for 24 years at Thew Elementary.
She left teaching in 1982 (after 26 years). But she couldn’t stay away for long. Like the Energizer bunny, she just keeps going. Two years later, she returned to the Tempe district first substituting as an instructional aide and then to her current job as a clerk in the payroll department, where she has worked for 32 years. That’s a total of 58 years of service to Tempe Elementary!Even though she is years older than anyone else in the District, “Miss Dottie,” as her co-workers call her, has energy that won’t quit and is always willing to lend a helping hand. She is that employee who always gives 110 percent and pitches in wherever she is needed. Watching her work, you would never guess she is 90 years old. She stands for hours at a time, tirelessly working, moving files and boxes like people far less than half her age.
“Dottie is a very special lady who always has great ideas, and her upbeat personality just puts you in a good mood,” says Accounts Payable Account Technician Senior Erica Valenzuela. “She’s definitely one of a kind.”
Applications Support Analyst Michelle Long has worked with Clothier for about 17 years. When asked what makes her so special, Long explains, “Dottie is amazing because she comes to work in a good mood, gets all of her work done, asks everyone else if they need help before she leaves, and stays positive all the time. It’s really incredible.”
Interestingly, but not surprising, Clothier’s daughter, who was also a teacher and a librarian, retired two years ago.
Clothier’s husband was also a teacher, a professor at ASU, after he retired from the military and served in World War II. They were married for 62 years, but he passed away nine years ago.What made Dottie finally decide to retire? “I feel like it’s time,” said Clothier, who talked about all the ever-changing technology that’s all around us now, making her feel like her role is not as needed anymore. Plus she wants to travel and spend more time with her family. “It’s like I’m closing a chapter and starting a new one…on a new page!” said Clothier.
Clothier still drives and for her first trip, she plans on heading to Payson to visit her daughter and her family.
Payroll Specialist Rozana Meyer has worked with Clothier for more than 10 years and describes her as feisty and always smiling. “She always wants to take on new things,” said Meyer. “She’s amazing, always thinking of others and how she can help. She brings so much joy and positivity to the department.” With a tear in her eye, she added, “She reminds me of my mom. She’s a mom to everyone here. Her leaving is like saying goodbye to my mom.”
When asked why she worked for Tempe Elementary for so long, Clothier replied, “I enjoy what I do and I love the people I work with. I never thought about working anywhere else!”
The Finance Department has named their long-time Lektriever filing system “The Dottie” after Clothier, who maintains the files in it. Once she retires, they plan on hanging a photo above it to always remember their beloved “Miss Dottie.”
Last year we created a video for Dottie’s 89th birthday.
And now Ernie. For Ernie Sanchez, not just education, but serving the students and staff of the Tempe Elementary School District is in the family.
Ernie is one of nine kids, and all but one worked in Tempe Elementary. His sister Refugia “Cuca” Romero was a social worker in the District for 13 years. Another sister Patricia “Patsy” Sanchez taught at four schools in the District for 30 years, retiring as a technology teacher at Gililland Middle School in 2012. His brother Abel was a custodian for 33 years and his other brother Joe was a painter for 36 years.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Their father, Ronaldo “Leonard” Sanchez also worked for Tempe Elementary, beginning in 1948 as a custodian at Guadalupe School, now known as Frank Elementary, then worked as a district plumber, and finally was promoted to grounds foreman, for a total of 44 years until he retired.
That sounds like a long time, but Ernie worked even longer. He just retired after 46 years. Two of Ernie’s sisters still work as ELL Instructional Assistants at Frank Elementary School, Irma Yucupicio and Elena Ambris. One of his sisters, Renee, and a brother, Ronaldo, have passed away. Collectively, the Sanchez family has had more than 200 years of service to the District.
In 1971, after retiring from the Army as a Vietnam War veteran, Sanchez started his long Tempe Elementary career as a custodian at Broadmor Elementary. He worked his way up to head custodian for a total of 20 years, until he decided to go back to school to learn audiovisual equipment repair, which earned himself a job in the IT department.
His job, over the years, evolved from making mechanical repairs like broken filmstrip projectors and changing and repairing projector lamps, VHS recorders, and chick incubators to computer and printer equipment troubleshooting and repair.
Sanchez is a quiet, quick-witted man who always has a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face or a clever thing to say. “He was always willing to help and never complained about anything,” described Jeanne Wdowin, assessment specialist. “You could always count on him to fix what needed to be fixed, quietly and dependably.”
“I enjoyed the work, and that’s why I stayed so long,” explained Sanchez.
Sanchez credits his father, Ronaldo “Leonard” Sanchez, for his strong work ethic. “My dad was very hard working.” Leonard started working for Tempe Elementary in 1948 and retired after 44 years at the age of 65.
Sanchez has seen many co-workers come and go over the years, but his coworker Mitch Sierra has worked with him for 21 years. Sierra describes Sanchez as “the great wise one” who never actually told you what to do when you asked for advice but helped you figure it out for yourself.
“I’m going to miss that about him,” said Sierra.
What is one thing Sanchez wants people to remember about him after he retires? “That I tried to do the best I could while I was there and work hard like my dad always did,” he explains.
“He was a great asset to our department – a mentor and a good listener,” said Sierra. “He will be missed.”
You might say Tempe Elementary is a family. Whether your family works here or your coworkers are like “family,” maybe that’s why the ones who stay so long do