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The smiles never stopped.
Neither did Melanie Elrod.
Thatâ€™s what her coworkers, friends and community leaders said this week.
Elrod retired Wednesday after 34 years in the Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) system.
â€śI always liked going to school,â€ť she said. â€śI always went to school. I never went to work.â€ť
Elrod, a native of Cramerton in Gaston County, wanted to be a French teacher.
She said French teaching positions only open so often, and she finished her studies at the wrong time to find a job teaching the language. She figured out, however, that she enjoyed working with at-risk children.
So she did that for more than three decades in a variety of academic roles. That included substitute teaching, coordinating dropout prevention efforts, kick-starting NCCSâ€™ English as a Second Language program, directing technology operations and retiring as director of student services and career and technical education.
â€śSheâ€™s done so much for people in high places and low places because she cares for people,â€ť NCCS Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said recently.
â€śPerhaps thatâ€™s her greatest legacy. Melanie is known as the face of NCCS. She is known as the caretaker of children.â€ť
Elrod said sheâ€™ll most remember children she met during her career.
â€śPeople say kids have changed,â€ť she said. â€śKids havenâ€™t changed. They still need somebody to love them and assure them theyâ€™re important.â€ť
Friends said she did that and more.
Many of those friends attended a retirement celebration this week in Newton-Conover Auditoriumâ€™s gallery.
People, some who drove several hundred miles, lined up to say goodbye and say good luck, and to reflect on Elrodâ€™s career.
Generations know Elrod. She taught and influenced fathers and their sons, mothers and their daughters.
Elrod always nurtured children and helped develop staff, too, said Danny Lentz, who once occupied an office beside Elrodâ€™s.
â€śShe always brought so much energy to everything she did,â€ť Lentz said.
â€śSheâ€™s given all she has to the kids of Newton-Conover. I canâ€™t help but wish her the best.â€ť
Alice and Dan Chamley drove from Tennessee to wish Elrod well. Alice said Elrod is the kind of person you â€śfall in love withâ€ť the first time you meet her.
â€śHer bright, cheerful way, itâ€™s like sunshine when you talk to her,â€ť Dan added.
At her retirement celebration, a friend read a poem about Elrodâ€™s career.
Newton Mayor Anne Stedman crowned Elrod and gave her a sash, referring to Elrodâ€™s self-title of â€śqueen of Newton-Conover schools.â€ť
Every friend who said hello also said thank you.
Many conjured stories, shared memories and gave mementos.
Some wiped tears from their cheeks.
â€śActually, I donâ€™t know what weâ€™ll do without her,â€ť Redmond said. â€śShe is our local historian, and sheâ€™s done so much for our school system.â€ť
Elrod said she helped secure more than $2 million in grant money for schools during her career. She said she had many projects in mind, even as she retired.
School wonâ€™t end for Elrod.
â€śI plan to take some enrichment classes this summer â€” jewelry and creative writing,â€ť she said. â€śAnd Iâ€™ll still be around.â€ť