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Published 4:07am Monday, May 20, 2013 Updated 6:11am Monday, May 20, 2013

At the start of the next school year, Carolyn Steffen will miss her fist bell in more than 20 years.

“I tell people I came with the building,” Steffen joked. “Cleveland has been a wonderful place to work. It’s like a second family here.”

Steffen has spent 24 years as a paraprofessional, all of which have been at the school. She moved to Fergus Falls in the 1980s with her husband who worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. After her children started kindergarten at the school, she worked as a voluneer at the building and applied to fill an open position. She started working full time in 1989.

Ever since then, she has worked with the school’s electronic lunch account program and served as an aid to teachers and students.

Over her many years, there have been changes, like the switch from a ticket system that was used for students buying hot lunches to the computer entry system most are familiar with today.

But over that time, one thing has stayed constant: the joy of spending her day with children.

“It’s fun working with the kids. You wouldn’t be in this field if you didn’t like being with them,” Steffen said. “There was never a day I didn’t want to come to work.”

One of Steffen’s favorite experiences has been organizing the school’s Presents for Pets program with the Humane Society. Every year around Christmas, children bring in items for the animals at the shelter. The program fosters a sense of giving within the students during the holiday.

“Every year I worry about whether we’ll have enough brought in,” Steffen said. “ Every year the kids do it.”

Steffen said that, besides the children, leaving behind so many people she’s worked with will be most difficult. Losing something that has helped define who she is won’t be easy either.

“It’s a part of who you are when you’ve been up and down these halls thousands of times,” Steffen said.

Retirement will have its welcomed benefits, however. Steffen looks forward to the free time and will spend much of it with her grandchildren.

“Whatever I want to do,” Steffen said with a smile. “I’ve been telling people I’ll be taking care of my clogged up closets and my grandchildren.”

Despite the difficult decision to leave, Steffen is happy she has so many good years to look back on. While she never imagined it would turn in to what it has, she is certainly glad it did.

“I love the place I work and I love my job,” Steffen said. “But it’s time for me to move on to the next stage of my life.”

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