After 25 years as the face of Sherwood Elementary, office manager Joni Goettel is vacating her post at the front desk and embarking on life’s next chapter.
During her time at Sherwood, she evolved into much more than an office manager – friend to all, shoulder to lean on, dryer of tears, hug dispenser, confidant to kids in trouble or just having a bad day, and – as one parent summed it up – “the heartbeat of the school.”
She leaves a void that will be impossible to fill.
“Joni is so much more than the best office manager in the known universe,” said Adam Zitzmann, Sherwood’s Student Intervention Coordinator. “She’s deeply invested in our kids and families, and has a special way of communicating with kids that breaks through generational layers. She bridges the gap to kids in trouble, and inherently knows what they need. She jumps into any situation and just cannonballs into the pool, staying till the need is met. She doesn’t just stay in the office – she’s out there, hands-on. The kids just love her – since announcing her retirement so many have run to her with tears in their eyes begging her to stay. It’s truly heart-rending.”
In a rare departure from her laser-focus on Sherwood, Goettel took medical leave in the late 1990s to donate a kidney to her daughter. “It was a total success,” she explained. “We just celebrated our 25th anniversary of the kidney transplant.” But then it was back to work, doing what she does best.
A Seattle-area native, Goettel was born in Northwest Hospital and grew up in the Greenwood area and later Richmond Beach. She initially attended St. Luke’s School, but transferred to Syre Elementary — then Einstein Middle — and graduated in 1975 from Shoreline High School. She next attended North Seattle Community College, where she studied business.
Her husband – coincidentally born in Northwest Hospital 11 days before her– was her first-grade classmate at St. Luke’s, but they didn’t start dating until high school.
“My first job was at the old Value Mart (now Fred Meyer) in Shoreline when I was still in high school,” she recalled. “My future husband used to play hockey at the ice rink just down the road, and we’d often meet up there.”
While attending college, she began working for Blue Cross, and her first job was helping with the transition from paper records, scanning them one by one onto microfiche. She moved from there to processing claims, eventually being promoted to claims processing supervisor.
But the economic downturn of the early 1990s prompted layoffs, and she left Blue Cross in 1991. The next year she began work with the Edmonds School District, where her tech knowledge was just what the district needed as it moved into the computer age.
But it was more than just office work.
“I also worked as a paraeducator, helping in the classroom with everything from small group activities to recess and lunch monitor, to behavior management,” she said. “This is where I got connected to the primary IS [intensive support] class, where I got to work with students experiencing severe problems – developmental disabilities, tragic home situations, fetal alcohol syndrome, you name it. I really found a big part of myself through this work. I look back on it today as the best time of my life.”
After doing this for five years, Goettel was given the chance to move to the main office as attendance secretary and health room screener, ultimately becoming the office manager.
“I love it,” she confessed. “I get to meet people and talk to the community. My hand is literally on the pulse of the school.”
And it doesn’t stop when the final bell rings.
“I live right up the street and have come down on numerous occasions to help with emergency situations, meet with a student in crisis, or even help unlock the doors for a teacher who forgot her keys,” she explained. “The school, the staff and the students are such a big part of my life and who I am. I admit that leaving is tough, but I know it’s time.”
This year’s last day of school is one she’ll never forget.
“The kids sang an original song that actually mentioned me,” she said. “I got so many hugs that day, and so many of the kids were crying and begging me to stay.”
During the assembly, Sherwood’s PSO (parent-student organization) presented Goettel with a cast iron sign saying “Goettel’s Courtyard,” which will be mounted in the open space outside the main office, as a permanent memorial to this icon of Sherwood Elementary.
So what’s next for this one-of-a-kind stalwart as she moves into retirement? Like so many at this stage of life, the long-postponed travel dream is at last within reach.
“My husband and I want to travel, and right now Italy is high on our list,” she said. “We have no grandkids or pets, and we see travel as part of our ‘transitional therapy’ to help us disconnect from what we’ve been doing and moving ahead.”
But wait – there’s another passion of Goettel’s that she’s a bit sheepish to admit: motorcycles. She already owns a little Italian Piaggio scooter, but her heart longs for bigger things.
“I got totally stoked at Sturgis a few years back,” she admitted. “I love the sound of those big bikes and the wildness of the whole thing. I’ve got the regalia – leathers, boots, everything – but no tattoos — yet. All I need is that big Harley, but it may not happen. They’re pretty heavy, and I shudder to think how I’d fare if I laid it down.”
The couple is also planning to explore the U.S. on a great American roadtrip.
“I dream of an Airstream trailer,” she confessed. “But in my mind I’ll be riding that Harley!”
For those who haven’t said goodbye yet, there’s still a chance. Goettel’s last day in the office is Aug. 31, so drop in and give her your best as she prepares to embark on new adventures.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel