Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 19, 2012

‘This was my ideal job...’

Van Sutphen recalls her 32 years as secretary at Mercer School

PRINCETON —  After 100 years of school being in session, current and past staff and students will be returning to the Mercer School in Princeton today to celebrate the school’s centennial.

One of the many coming to celebrate the school’s 100th birthday will be Patty Van Sutphen, who spent more than three decades at the school as both a student and a staff member.

Though she retired from her position in 1989 after 32 years of service, Van Sutphen continues to be attached to the school. Van Sutphen’s daughter and her two grand children are also school alumni and will be attending the centennial celebrations with her.

Van Sutphen was barely out of school herself when she took the secretarial position at the Mercer School

“I was 18-years-old,” she said. “I had graduated from Princeton High School in 1956, and I started working there in August of 1957. I didn’t attend college; I just went out of high school and started working there.”

Van Sutphen said she felt comfortable taking the position at Mercer School because she held fond memories of the facility from her days as a student.

“I was a student at the Mercer School from grade four through eight,” she said. “I just enjoyed classes and other people there. I loved the building and everything. The teachers were all wonderful and so were the students. I wanted to be a school secretary and that job was just opened. That was really great since I had attended there. I just like secretarial work and being with students.

Seeing students grow up over the years was one of the things Van Sutphen enjoyed the most about her job.

“I loved meeting all the students and seeing the new ones every year,” she said. “That was the best part of it. I got to know a lot of them personally. That was what I really liked. A lot of them still remember me. If I am downtown they will still come up to me, tell me who they are and ask if I still remember them. I prefer the school atmosphere. The atmosphere at a school is much better. I would see the teachers. They would always stop by the office and talk. I would see the students during activities. If they had a program or something I usually attended it and enjoyed it.”  

Van Sutphen tried not to miss a day of school and returned to her position a month after the birth of her daughter.

“I didn’t miss a days work when my daughter was born,” she said. “She was born during the middle of summer. She was born in July and I started back in August when she was a month old. My mother kept her during the day when I was at school when she was little.  Now I keep my grandchildren for her so she can work at the central office.”

When her daughter began attending Mercer School, Van Sutphen said there was plenty of time for mother-daughter bonding on the car rides to and from the school each day.

“I loved having her at school with me,” she said. “We had the same holidays and time off. We started together and got off together. I could be there with her. I treated her the same way I treated all the rest of the students. She didn’t have to ride the bus, instead she rode with me every day. I enjoyed having that time with her every morning and every evening.”

One of Van Sutphen’s favorite teachers at the school was her daughter’s third grade teacher.

“Margaret Weatherford who taught third grade mostly at the school,” she said. “She was just a nice person. She wasn’t my teacher but she worked there as a teacher after I started, and she was my daughter’s teacher. She was just wonderful.”

In addition to her secretarial work, Van Sutphen sometimes filled the role as a counselor, nurse and surrogate mother to many of the students who came into her office.

“I loved meeting the people and seeing the kids every day, seeing them grow up,” Van Sutphen said. “A lot of them treated me like a surrogate parent. They would come into the office and talk to me a lot if they had the opportunity. Occasionally they would talk about their home life. Sometimes they wanted to talk about how mean they thought their teacher was. I would listen to anything they wanted to talk about. Sometimes they were sick and they had to stay in the office until someone picked them. I might have to put a bandage or something else on them. I got to know the kids who got in trouble really well because they were often sent to the principal’s office and had to wait with me. Sometimes they were scared and would cry because they had been sent to the principal’s office. I just talked to them. ”

Van Sutphen said she saw changing times reflected in the students and school policies through the more than 30 years she worked at Mercer School

“At the beginning, girls had to wear skirts,” she said. “When I first started children had to be dressed up more, but over the years they started wearing pants and shorts and things like that. There was no kindergarten classrooms when I first started, but I don’t remember when they brought kindergarten children in. There were a lot of changes in activities in some of the things, especially in physical education and other classes. When I first started working they used the paddle but they had quit by the end of my time working there.”

By Van Sutphen’s estimation, she saw approximately 16,000 students come and go through the doors of Mercer School during her 32 tenure in the front office.

“I just loved watching the children grow up, see the changes in them,” she said. “To me it was ideal. I couldn’t have found a better job. I got to see a lot of their siblings come through after them as well. I got to know a lot of families. I have met so many people over the years. We had about 500 students over the years and times that by 32 years you meet a lot of people during that time period. I saw a lot of children of former students come back as well and got to watch their children grow up.”

— Contact Kate Coil at�

Text Only
  • Randy Phillips 1 A heart for service

    In the film noir gangster movies, guys who did the kind of work that Randolph “Randy” Phillips did would be called, “Screw,” a name for a prison guard that comes from the shackles that bound prisoners more than a century ago. But during 32 years of service with the Virginia Department of Corrections, Phillips, now 63, and retired, worked to help the inmates under his supervision work to straighten their lives out and become productive citizens.

    July 26, 2014 3 Photos

  • Pam Meade Giving back to the community

    When Pam Meade retired after 26 years in the banking business, she worked in her garden, traveled, and did all the other things that a lack  of time didn’t allow. The novelty started wearing off when her second year of retirement arrived, so she started looking for more to do and found a new purpose when the Tazewell Area Chamber of Commerce needed a new executive director.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Original marriage of the Bluefields Celebrating historic union

     All prospective brides and grooms feel excited as the appointed hour for the exchange of their wedding vows moves ever closer, but for Stephanie Muncy of Nemours and Cody Woodall of Springville, Va., the excitement is almost mach one — the speed of sound.

    July 12, 2014 3 Photos

  • Richard Smith 1 From Hot Wheels to classics...

    Years ago when they were boys, Richard Smith and his brother Roger watched as the men in their families worked with muscle cars and hot rods. They had their Hot Wheels toys to play with, but then they grew up and got their own big cars. Now Richard Smith and other enthusiasts are working to share their passion for cars.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Hankins Telescope 1 ‘I love it, it’s in my blood’

    June 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Florida Georgia Line Ready to party

    June 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • IMG_0941.JPG Jake’s Grocery: A point of stability in McDowell County

    In a world of constant change, Jake’s Grocery has been a point of stability for decades. Economic downturns and floods have challenged owner Jacob T. Potter and his wife Carol Sue, but with help from above, the small store in McDowell County has stayed open to see its 45th anniversary.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Lasker  Telescope 1 Looking back on life

    In less than a month Dr. Bruce Lasker, 68, of Bluefield, will be cleaning out his office, while reminiscing about the last 38 years. As an OB/GYN, Lasker has been delivering babies in the two Virginias since 1976. He delivered his last baby in April and will retire officially on June 30.

    May 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Wikle Telescope 1 Combining two loves

    Princeton resident Stan Wikle, 60, knows and loves gospel music. He also likes planning events. So in 1995, he combined his two loves to create Stan Wikle gospel Promotions, a business that brings national Christian artists to local venues in the two Virginias.

    May 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • Weiss Telescope 1 Determined spirit

    April 26, 2014 2 Photos