GLEN RIDGE, NJ — With students always coming by for one reason or another, and the daily contact with parents, and keeping track of student absences, no wonder Ridgewood Elementary School secretary Pam Flippin calls her office “the hub.” Well, Flippin will be retiring from the hub and the district this month. It was her friend, the school nurse, Joan Dejong, who told her the secretarial position was open. That was 18 years ago.
Flippin is a big Mets fan, she will tell you that, and that she has been one since 1984 when she met her future husband, John, already a big fan of the team. For her, 1986 was “magical” because the Mets won the World Series in seven games against the Boston Red Sox, extending the series in a miraculous Game 6 win.
“I’ve suffered since then,” she said.
Last summer she decided to retire.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” she said recently at the school. “My husband is retiring in October.
A Glen Ridge resident since 1980, she is planning on moving to Stone Harbor, in Cape May County.
“We have a condo there,” she said. “My husband has been going down there since he was a little child.”
She figures to move in August.
Evidently “the hub” is well named. Flippin was constantly being interrupted by teachers, phone calls and students during this interview. Even Schools Superintendent Dirk Phillips walked in, said hello, and sat down.
“People would say, ‘How do you stand being interrupted all the time?’” she said. “I’d tell them that is my job, with 600 kids, 50 teachers and a lot of people-contact, which I like.”
Her most memorable day on the job was Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks.
“I know I didn’t leave my desk the whole day,” she said. “It was intense. We didn’t know what was going on. Parents were coming to get their kids.”
Flippin said she knew some of the people who died in the Trade Center attack.
As a borough resident for almost 40 years, and a sociable person, Flippin says she knows a lot of people. She attends church, yoga and a book club.
“I tell my husband he’s going to have to make me laugh a lot,” she said.
There is also the matter of her desk. After 18 years, what is on it? In Flippin’s case, a wooden, puzzle box. There is a secret way to open it up.
“The kids love this,” she said. “They try to figure it out.”
The box was a gift from a friend. Flippin opened up the box. Inside was a campaign-type button, but with the photograph of a man, maybe 30 years old, with a full, brown beard. He is sitting on a large motorcycle. Flippin says he is the brother of a friend and closes the box.
There is another container on the desk. It is round, made of colorful wires and holds paper clips. A student gave it to Flippin when it was filled with candy.
“The kids love it,” she said. “They think it’s a pretty box.”
A small ceramic rhinoceros stands nearby. That is the school mascot. About a dozen combination locks are also in the desk in a heap. They are either lost or broken. Behind her on a shelf are Mets teddy bears.
Flippin figures she know nearly all the 592 students at the school.
“Not all, but a lot,” she said. “The funny thing, when they come back to visit, they’ve changed so much. When they say their name, then I remember.”
Her very best friend is Dejong, the school nurse.
“Our kids were friends,” Flipping said. “They met in kindergarten. The great thing here is that you get to know everyone. If you’re a teacher, you have your instructional team. But I get to see everybody every day. I get to know them and a little about their families.”
The photograph in the puzzle box, it turns out, is Dejong’s brother.
“A good guy,” Dejong said when she dropped in for a minute.
Looking ahead to retirement, Flippin said she loves to read. One of her favorite authors is Ann Cleeves, the mystery writer. She plans on joining a yoga class, finding a volunteer position and a new church. Flippin said she was very active with the Glen Ridge Congregational Church and was also a special advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA. This is a group dedicated to safeguarding a neglected child’s right to a secure and permanent home life.
“I may get back into CASA,” Flippin said. “I did it for six or seven years. You do a lot of training which is important.”
She is also interested in playing pickleball, but admits she does not know exactly what that is.
She said her job has changed over the years. When she began, it was for 10 months. About 14 years ago, it became a yearlong job. There is plenty of summer work, too. All paperwork. Student files have to be sent to the high school; forms for the students advancing from Linden and Forest avenue schools are arriving; and the calendar for the coming school year has to be worked on.
“There’s a lot of calendar for the district,” she said. “This school has the only auditorium in town. We’re used by a lot of different organization and we don’t want to overbook.”
Although she is moving a distance away, there should be the occasional Flippin sighting in the future because she has children living in the area. But do not expect her to migrate north in the spring. She will be headed south.
“Next spring, we’re headed down to Florida,” she said. “We’re planning to see the Mets in spring training.”