Bette (“Betty”) McCord has been one of the first faces students, parents, community providers, volunteers and visitors have seen when they enter Evergreen Elementary School for over three decades. At the end of June, after a long career working with multiple generations of Key Peninsula children and families, McCord will retire from her position as office manager.
“It’s going to be really hard,” she said. “It’s a great community down here.”
McCord grew up in Tacoma, where she attended St. Leo’s Catholic School, then came to the KP at 20 years old when she bought property in Lakebay. She was taking classes at Tacoma Community College and the University of Washington with the goal of becoming a structural engineer, a trajectory that changed after she got married in 1980.
“I bought an old school bus and tore it all apart and then built a little living area inside, put a wood stove in there, and that’s where I lived when I went to school,” she said. “I started working for an engineering firm at home doing drafting for them, and then it just got to be too much because I was too far away.”
The firms were in Seattle or Tacoma and required a commute for in-person work, so McCord and her husband decided to live on one income. When their three children started preschool, she became involved with the schools as a volunteer.
First hired by the district 31 years ago, McCord “sat at a little desk and sold lunch tickets in the morning to kids,” she said. During the recent move into Evergreen’s new building, she found one of those little blue paper tickets stuck under a desk, like a tiny time capsule.
“When I started, we used a student administration program that was still basic computer language, you know, with the old dot matrix, so we’ve come miles from that. Everything’s automated, especially being in this new building where everything’s computer-driven,” she said.
McCord said she is not a huge fan of technology and looks forward to getting away from screens in her retirement.
“In an elementary school, the office manager does just about everything — all the payroll, all the purchasing, the enrollment — anything you can think about that makes the school run, and so all of that now involves a computer,” she said. “They’ve added a new program almost every year for the last 10 years … it’s continually changing.”
Despite having to relearn with every update, McCord has loved being Evergreen’s office manager, a role she has held for about 15 years, and she will miss the people she works with, especially the kids.
“It’s a very happy place. Just coming to school, we have lots of fun, we play, we goof around with each other,” she said. “The staff are just some of the most amazing people. They have the biggest hearts.”
Prior to becoming office manager, McCord worked at the school as a paraeducator and health tech. Throughout her time there, she has seen Evergreen grow and change, as well as the whole Key Peninsula community.
“We have the highest free and reduced (lunch) rate in the district but it’s not like it was,” she said. “We used to have families living without water, without electricity; that was not uncommon.”
Those who have worked with McCord over the years said she has always been adored and is known for her friendly, welcoming presence, and for running the office with grace, wit and charm.
“She is one of the most genuine people I have ever met,” Evergreen Principal Hugh Maxwell said. “Bette is so much more than an office manager. She has a deep caring for others and is often a friend, counselor, advocate, catalyst for change, safety net for those in need and so many other amazing things that support our staff, students, parents and community.”
Evergreen alumna Gina Cabiddu first met McCord when she moved to Lakebay as a third-grader 20 years ago.
“I’ve always known her to be warm, positive, and a connected advocate for the students she works with,” Cabiddu said. “Bette was a big part of how the Evergreen team set me up for success as an adult. Today, Bette is a shining example of why I give to various organizations in the community that support Evergreen because Bette and those like her impact generations to come and I want to pay that forward.”
McCord said she appreciates local nonprofits and generous individuals that have helped Evergreen students and families over the years, such as Lulu Smith, Children’s Home Society of Washington, Communities in Schools of Peninsula, St. Hugh Episcopal Church in Allyn, and The Longbranch Foundation — “great people who are willing to do whatever to keep families whole,” she said.
“Our numbers look really good in their grants. That has brought a lot more services to our families out here,” she said. “Hugh Maxwell, our principal now, he’s continued that, just trying to create a hub here and giving space and giving of the school to whatever community resource needs it … They bring services with them, so he’s a big thinker.”
McCord plans to stay involved with Evergreen and will briefly return in August to help get the new school year off to a smooth start. “You can’t just sit home and watch TV,” she said.
This summer, she and her 16-year-old grandson are heading to Alaska on a six-week road trip with her little camper.
“We’re going boondocking,” she said. “I think it’ll be fun.”
Along with a Pomeranian Pekingese mix (“Pominese”) named Pika Daisy, the two will explore Canada and Alaska via the Alaska Highway (also known as the “Al-Can”), stopping along the way for a whale-watching trip and an overland safari to see wildlife.
“Bette has been the face of Evergreen for many years,” Maxwell said. “She will be missed dearly.”
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