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South Salt Lake Journal

Olene Walker Elementary School employee surprised with a party to celebrate 50 years

May 06, 2024 03:13PM ● By Sarah Brown

Community members celebrate Lillian Winn with confetti. (Sarah Brown/City Journals)

 When a 1969 red Camaro pulled up to her house on a Friday afternoon in April, Lillian Winn did not know who was picking her up or where she was going. Her daughter had to tell her it was safe to get in the car. 

Minutes later she arrived at Olene Walker Elementary School where she was greeted by current and former colleagues, friends, students and community members popping confetti and cheering. Even the school mascot was there to welcome her.

They were there to surprise and honor Winn for 50 years of service as a dedicated paraprofessional at Olene Walker, and previously at Roosevelt Elementary School, prior to its closing three years ago.

The party evoked a lot of emotion.

Kari Montoya, the principal secretary at Olene Walker Elementary, had been planning the party since Winn’s official 50-year anniversary in September.

“I want to celebrate her all the way in,” she said enthusiastically, while orchestrating attendee positioning in preparation for Winn’s arrival.

When Winn stepped out of the car, everyone had tears in their eyes as they embraced her with hugs.

Inside were balloons, a guest book and photo album with Winn’s individual and staff portraits marking each of her 50 years of employment.

Winn walked down a vinyl red carpet and was seated in a large blue chair on stage. A crown was placed on her head while she was lavished with words of praise for her contributions. Speeches, gifts and a video compilation of statements of gratitude were presented to her.

Winn’s best friend and colleague of 39 years, Nancy Wanner, said, “I’m so glad this celebration is being planned for her because she definitely deserves it.”

Winn was recently recognized as the South Salt Lake 2024 Citizen of the Year. 

Commenting on being presented with the award by the mayor, she said, “I had no clue, absolutely shocked. It was really nice, I felt so honored. And I had no idea about this.”

Montoya recognized Winn as a “silent hero.” She said, “Her impact extends beyond the classroom into careers, families and this community.”

Winn has taught three generations of students in some families, a fact she is both embarrassed by and proud of. 

As a paraprofessional, she supports students in various classrooms with math and reading. 

In the video compilation, several students thanked her for helping them to learn their vowels and new words. 

Karly Chavez, Olene Walker Elementary’s principal, expressed appreciation and acknowledged her presence as a “staple” in their school.

Winn said, without hesitation, that her favorite part of her work was “the kids.” 

“When you make a difference, when they come in and they can’t read or they don’t know math and at the end of the year they can do it, that’s my reward,” Winn said.

Nicole McDermott, president of the Granite District School Board, thanked her on behalf of the District for her “commitment to the children.” She said, “that is truly what makes a difference in their lives and in this school.”

Winn’s commitment endures, as she has no plans to stop anytime soon. She hopes to continue until she is 90. “I’ve loved my job for 51 years,” she said. “Because I’ve done it for so long, I have skills now.”

Wanner said, “I’ve seen what a wonderful job she does with the children in the school. She is such a kind and caring, and loving person, that the kids just can’t help but love her.”  

Sharing her thoughts on the surprise, Winn said, “It’s very humbling.…It takes a lot to make me cry. So, if you see me cry, you know it’s pretty emotional.” λ