In 1970, Lynette Birkmaier was hired as the Staples High School guidance department receptionist. Another woman in guidance was named Nonette, so to avoid confusion she became "Lyn."

For the next 40 years, Lyn Birkmaier worked at Staples. Now 80, she retires this month. She'll have more time with her husband of 54 years, Les -- a man she has known since she was 6.

Before leaving, Lyn shared her recollections with staff members. The series of anecdotes provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at her workplace of four decades -- the good, the bad and the very, very funny.

In the early days, she learned a lot from head custodian Earl Mason. He told her that when there were concerts and plays in the auditorium, the women arrived in long gowns. The men wore tuxes.

In 1975, a car was parked parallel, occupying in two spaces. Towing was avoided when science teacher Don DiGennaro told Lyn: "Some boys picked it up and turned it around!"

In January 1977, with zero-degree weather for two weeks, students took trays from the cafeteria and slide down the hill by the soccer field -- clear across to the far fence.

In October 1978, while sewer lines were being installed, two explosions occurred. One blew a door right off a locker.

"Modernization" -- uniting the nine separate, California-style buildings -- was underway in late 1978. With bulldozers, dump trucks and cement trucks vying for space, chaos reigned. And when rains fell, mud pooled. A girl stepped out outside one day, and sank up to her knees. When she pulled out her leg, her shoe was gone.

In February 1979, an effigy of Lee Littrell -- the assistant headmaster, and by then Lyn's boss -- was hung from the hook of a large crane. When the effigy was removed, newspapers were found stuffed inside -- with the mailing address label of a Staples student. It did not take long to crack that case.

The next month, roofs were tarred. The noise was deafening -- and the odor horrendous. Several staff members and students had allergic reactions.

By July, huge ditches prevented access to the school. The only entryway was through Lyn's window. Students, visitors, deliveries, mail -- everything came in that way. An added difficulty: parking. All around Staples, there were risks of cars being covered by dirt, hit by a truck or falling in a hole.

Just before school opened, a Friday night rainstorm hit Westport. Workers had put tar on the gym roof -- but no final sealer. The floor was soaked -- and it buckled in 2-foot waves.

One morning principal George Cohan stepped outside, into 2 feet of water. He closed school for the day. That gave some teachers a brief reprieve -- and not from teaching. It was the custom, Lyn says, for construction workers to sit and eat their lunch while ogling and whistling at the women who walked by.

The new library opened in December 1979. In the middle of the office stood a fire hydrant. It had been in the original blueprints, so workmen lay carpet around it, and left it there.

Some doors in a new area locked from the inside -- not outside. A counselor walking to the guidance office heard "Help! Help!" coming from a recently built room. A workman was locked in.

Modernization was finally over -- but problems remained. Every time it rained, water rose up through the 4 (arts) building floor. Custodians put planks of wood across the water, for access. During the Players' production of Anything Goes, students pulled a boat -- one of the props -- out of the backstage area into the hallway. They sat in the middle of the water, and ate their lunch.

Modernization of another kind came to Staples, in the form of attendance. A huge computer was needed, using IBM punch cards. A student was hired to process the cards, and print reports. He was quite the entrepreneur -- earning money from other students, in return for not processing their cards.

Lyn remembers several senior pranks. One year, a Volkswagen was snuck into the cafeteria. Another time, students set up an entire classroom on a walkway roof: chairs, desks, everything. One group set up a pool, blanket, chair and umbrella in the south courtyard, and lounged in their bathing suits. A memorable prank: piling old tires on all of the lampposts.

Equally famous: A senior class cemented a wall at the bottom of the stairs leading from the cafeteria to the lower level, and filled the courtyard with water. Removing it took plenty of engineering skill. One mistake, and the entire library would have flooded.

Lyn leaves Staples with many fond memories. Her husband started her car for her every morning and brought it to her front door. Ever day, a beautiful cardinal sings as she leaves for work. The school community, she says, has been "so supportive and understanding and helpful."

She has been encouraged to be creative, she says, which has made her work fulfilling. "There have been so many laughs," she notes. "A good sense of humor is a must. And fortitude is necessary and rewarding."

For 40 years, Lyn Birkmaier has had a sense of humor, fortitude -- and, despite many obstacles, a deep and abiding love for her work.

For 40 years, Staples has enjoyed the fruits of her labors. Now it's time for her to enjoy time with her beloved son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.

Here's wishing Lyn a happy, fulfilling and rich retirement. Without any mud, tar or student pranks.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer. Want more Woog? Read more from him during the week at His personal blog is; his e-mail is