Fort Calhoun Elementary School's annual field day on Friday was nearly over. The only event left was the sixth grade versus teachers tug-of-war contest on the school's playground for the "Golden Shoe" trophy.
But, the shoe wasn't there. Physical education teacher Tessa Rutledge left it in the school on purpose. She gathered all the elementary students around, had Fort Calhoun High School senior volunteers hand out celebratory signs and filled everyone in on the plan to surprise Administrative Assistant Joyce Smith.
"I'm going to call in and have her bring out the Golden Shoe," Rutledge told the elementary students. "You can't say anything until I say, 'Thank you Joyce,' then hold up the signs and say, 'Thank you Joyce' ... We got to try and make her cry."
As she delivered the tug-of-war trophy, Smith held back tears between hugs from numerous elementary students and nearly an entire school community's cheers of thanks for her 27 years of service to the school. Smith is retiring at the end of the year.
"I was wondering why they wanted me to do the tug-of-war, I never do the tug-of-war," Smith said. "I got out here, and there were all these signs, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I was totally surprised."
She might not participate in the tug-of-war often, but she helped the teachers beat the sixth graders for the bragging rights. After the contest, several FCHS seniors assisting with field day hugged and thanked her, much the same as the elementary students, elementary Principal Drew Wagner and Rutledge did moments earlier.
"It's kind of one last hoorah for her," said Rutledge, who organized the surprise celebration.
Day to day, Smith said she doesn't have any specific plans for retirement. She'll probably quilt or scrapbook, she said, or spend more time with her children who live in multiple places near and far from Fort Calhoun.
In her nearly three decades as administrative assistant, Smith said she's enjoyed the close relationships built with the entire school community.
"I loved every minute of being here," she said. "It's like my own little family."