Most students and staff at Walton Rural Life Center entered full winter-break mode this week, but administrative assistant Deb Flavin is preparing for a little longer hiatus as Dec. 19 was Flavin's last official day at the school before entering retirement.

For 24 years, Flavin has been a fixture in Walton. In fact, it's the only school she ever worked in (after a career in retail and time as a stay-at-home mom). Her own children attended Walton, and some time later, when the position of administrative assistant opened up, she was encouraged to apply. She settled in nicely to the utilitarian role.

"When the nurse isn't here, then we do the nursing duties and do lunchroom and breakfast duties — just a little bit of everything," Flavin said.

On top of answering phones, taking attendance and purchasing supply orders, Flavin did whatever was needed as an administrative assistant.

A lot has changed in the years since Flavin first started, she said, as she began as the only administrative assistant at Walton Rural Life Center. Since then, she has worked with five different principals and many more teachers, and she has seen the school grow from 79 students to 200 currently.

Through those years, some of the students in the building during Flavin's first year have gone on to have children of their own who are now attending school in Walton. Seeing some of the parents' traits in the current students has brought things full circle and has reinforced what has kept Flavin going for 24 years.

"I love kids. They all became my kids," Flavin said. "I was mom to everybody, I think, and I've enjoyed it."

Clearly, the kids loved their "mom" as well. Flavin was swarmed by all the students leaving for winter break on her last day, and parents and grandparents came in to share their gratitude for the investment Flavin made in her "children."

Like any school (or family), there were students who needed a little extra attention, and Flavin was happy to oblige. While she didn't know what exactly to expect when starting her role, that was part of how she put her own stamp on it along the way.

"Some kids spend lots of time with me, and those are the kids that just kind of have my heart," Flavin said. "I've always been raised that when you do something, you do it to the best of your ability, and you treat everybody the way you want to be treated."

Flavin grew up in Moundridge and came to Newton shortly after marrying her husband. With her kids going through school in Walton and her own work history, it has come to be another home.

Flavin admitted it will be different not having to get up and get to school by 7 a.m. now that she is retired. Though she is stepping away to do some traveling and help take care of family, she said it will be difficult to forget the students and staff.

Over the years, Flavin has shared a lot of good memories with those students and staff — like seeing Walton Rural Life Center became a charter school or the Kansas State Department of Education recognizing it as a top school. Those are moments she will not forget.

"Happy Trails," the tune that used to release students at Walton for the weekend, played through the halls of the school on Flavin's final day. While there may not be a set time until Flavin and her Walton family "meet again," she wishes nothing but the best for the students and staff until that time comes.

"This school has had my heart for 24 years and it's going to be hard to step away, but everything has to come to an end at some point. It's time," Flavin said. "I hope they always remember that I cared and that I loved each one of them."