Joyce Gago: Franklin’s Ray of Sunshine Since 1950

Pictured is Joyce sitting at her desk in the staff room. Joyce, graduate of 1954, is a current employee who plays a vital role in the Franklin community. Photo by Lucy Eckel.

Opened in 1914, Franklin High School (FHS) has a rich and long-lasting history that lives on through its students, staff, volunteers, family, and community. Franklin’s values, memories, and history live on through people like Joyce Gago, a graduate from the class of 1954. Found in the halls and staff room every morning is Joyce, a former student, volunteer, and current staff member. Joyce plays a vital role in the Franklin community today, although unnoticed by many current students; without Joyce, the FHS community wouldn’t be where it is today.

Joyce started high school in 1950. Reflecting back on her freshman year, she explains that there were roughly 2,000 students at the school. She talks about her class sizes, recalling that there were 36 to 38 students in every class and that at the time, the school building was smaller than it is today. Throughout her time at Franklin as a student, parent, volunteer, and part-time employee, Joyce has seen the many different layouts and remodels Franklin has undergone. She reflects on one of the best remodel decisions being the cafeteria, formerly located in the basement of the school. 

Joyce had many memories from her high school years, but one that stood out in particular was from her sophomore year. In 1952, Johnnie Ray, a well known American singer of the time, came and performed for the Franklin student body. Joyce explains that students who were there for the performance to this day talk about the time that Johnnie Ray came to school.

After graduating in 1954, Joyce didn’t return to Franklin until the polio vaccine was distributed. Later on, when one of her classmates was the president of the Parent-Teacher Association, Joyce remembers the call she got from her friend saying, “get back here, we need some help.” She began volunteering from 1976 until 1991 when she took a part-time job with the school. “I always said Franklin’s the best kept secret in the district because we have the most wonderful staff and people,” says Joyce. 

Now, Joyce comes to Franklin every morning for about two hours. She’s at the school making coffee for staff, mailing and putting out the sign-in sheet before students and staff arrive in the morning. She acts as a support for anyone who is needing some help, whether that’s filling in for someone in the front office while they’re doing meetings or covering wherever is needed at the moment.

As she thinks back on her time at Franklin, she continues to revisit the reason why she has stayed connected to Franklin for all this time: “It’s more like a family, a community, [not] just a school.” This sense of community is what brought Joyce and many other Franklin staff back to the school later in life. Joyce talks about how some of the staff members who work at FHS today were students she remembers from decades ago. The community fostered at Franklin is reflected through Joyce’s words about the FHS staff: “We take care of one another. I mean students, staff, nurses, you name it, counselors, everybody’s number one thing at Franklin is the students and the staff. I mean we care about people.”

“It isn’t just a job, at Franklin High School, it’s a pleasure. And I think that’s what keeps me returning,” says Joyce. “Our students are our number one concerns; we care about our students.”

Just as Joyce cares for the staff of Franklin, she is beloved amongst the staff as well. Kevin Denney, a math teacher at FHS, says, “I admire her anyways, but she saved my life with help.” After he didn’t sign in with Joyce one morning, she persistently urged someone to go check on him. Denney’s doctors say that if someone hadn’t found him when they did, roughly two hours later, he would have been in a coma. Denney was diagnosed with LADA, Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, and without Joyce’s help, who knows where Denney would be now. Denney explains that she is a savior and when his daughter was born, he gave her the middle name of Joyce. Denney says that when he told Joyce about his daughter, it was the only time he’s seen Joyce speechless.

The biggest piece of advice Joyce would give to students is to stay in school. “I mean, education is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And the friendships that you make are lifelong,” she says. Throughout the entire time while speaking to Joyce, the idea of community within Franklin consistently came up. The love and compassion she shares towards students and staff is unlike any other.

After speaking to Jill Register, Vice Principal’s Secretary, graduate, and daughter of Joyce, the kindness that Joyce emanates became even more evident. “She does not know a stranger, like seriously. [M]y dad used to joke that the woman would talk to a wall,” says Register. She explains that no matter what walk of life, Joyce is always there to listen and talk to someone. “If there is a student that needs something you’ll be lucky to be that student because she will not stop until you have what you need,” Register adds, “If somebody has been wronged in a bad way and they come to her, she will do what it takes. And the thing about her is she knows so many people.”

Beyond her life at Franklin, Joyce is described by Register as a determined, hard working, sometimes mischievous, loving, family first woman who knows how to have a good time. And she’s fast paced; Register explains that Joyce could beat anyone in a walk off. “She’s hilarious in the sense that she’ll show up for a challenge and that she doesn’t care what she looks like doing it,” says Register.

“Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s you could ask pretty much anyone ‘hey, do you know Joyce?’ and they’d be like ‘Of course we know Joyce.’” Register describes her as a memory and a mom for many Franklin community members. No matter where Joyce is or goes, she is always herself.

Joyce is a determined, unapologetic and caring person whose love for Franklin students, staff and community is undeniable. Although her roles at Franklin have changed over the years, she still plays a vital role in the community. As you wander through the Franklin halls, keep your eyes out for her and thank her for all that she does for us Franklin community members.

Leave a Reply