Watsessing School in Bloomfield bids farewell to longtime lunch aide

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Jean Gomes, 78, is retiring after 42 years as a lunchtime aide.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Lunch will be a little different today at Watsessing Elementary School because yesterday, Dec. 22, after 42 years, Jean Gomes, 78, lunchtime aide, retired.

Before coming to Watsessing, Gomes worked for her in-laws at Kosher Supreme Bakery, in Belleville. Her home was on Harrison Street, smack on the boundary line between Belleville and Bloomfield, she said. The bakery was on Harrison Street, too.

“I just helped make the bread in the back with my husband,” she said earlier this week. “I couldn’t get away from my husband. He’s 80 and still with me.”

After moving entirely to Bloomfield, with her children attending Fairview Elementary School, Gomes took a job with the school district as a substitute lunchtime aide. She worked at various schools until, after a few months, she was assigned to Watsessing. She and her husband, Elias, had four children: Elias, Robert, Holly and Sharon. 

“I went through about five principals here,” she said. “Don’t ask me their names.”

She gave a number of reasons for retiring: because she had had enough; did not want to do it anymore; had done her share and felt it was time to go, but then added, “I grew to love this place.” 

She watched over the second-graders while they ate lunch and then, outside, watched the first- and second-graders.

“I told the little ones to call me Mrs. G,” she said. “I’ve run into some of them from when I first started. They recognized me.” 

Although she was with the students for only about 90 minutes a day, she said the children seem more prepared for school now than when she started 42 years ago. As for their behavior, she said there have always been good kids and misbehaving kids.

“All I can tell you is that they’re very interesting to watch,” she said

She did not know many of the children’s names, but said she knew the names of the ones she had to keep an eye on.  

Gomes was part of a lunch aide trio, which included Rosanne Mulhearn and Cindy Cofone.

“Rosanne, Cindy and me were like the Golden Girls,” Gomes said in reference to the popular TV show about four fun-loving, mature women.

“We were always together,” she said. “They’re both retired. Cindy just retired. They came after me.”

Along with another colleague, Anita Killian, the group enjoyed frequenting the Atlantic City slots, but the pandemic disrupted that.

“What stopped us,” she said, “was that the buses don’t go down now. We’d go whenever we could get a bus. I won once or twice.”

Principal Gina Rosamilia said Gomes was probably one of the most dedicated and caring aides she ever had.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with her not only as a principal the last 14 years, but I remember when I was a teacher here and she was a lunch lady,” Rosamilia said. “Her concern was always the safety of the kids. She was kind and genuine. They don’t make lunch ladies like that anymore.”

Rosamilia said the school recently had a small assembly for Gomes. It was attended by Bloomfield Superintendent of Schools Sal Goncalves, who, in an email to this newspaper, called Gomes “an excellent lunch mom who loves children and a great person to work with.”

“She told me that Sal was the first teacher she was a lunch aide for, which I thought was pretty profound,” Rosamilia said. “But it was time to retire and you wish her well.

“There was one funny thing about her,” Rosamilia continued. “She never wore gloves. I’d say, ‘Mrs. Gomes, it’s freezing outside. Where are your gloves?’ And she’d say, ‘I don’t wear gloves.’ She never complained and was rarely absent.”

Gomes said it was difficult for her to let the school know she was retiring.

“I told them I’d come back and visit them,” she said. “I wanted to go now. Bad weather isn’t easy for an old person. But my first- and second-graders will miss me.”