For several generations of students at Petal High School, Ramona Hollimon – known affectionally as Ms. Ramona – has been the gatekeeper of sorts at the Petal School District’s flagship school, lending a hand to parents, students and administrators in her role as receptionist.
Now, after 23 years, the front office at the school will have a different look, as Hollimon retired effective Oct. 1 to spend more time with family, among other endeavors.
“I’m very excited about (my retirement),” Hollimon said. “Petal High School was really my place of service, and I feel like I was blessed to be able to serve there.
“But I’m just looking for a slower pace, and I want to be able to enjoy (time with) my two granddaughters. I’ll do some traveling, but it’s mostly to be with the granddaughters.”
Hollimon began her career with the Petal School District in 1998 at Petal Upper Elementary School, which was then known as W.L. Smith Elementary School. She was hired as secretary/receptionist by then-principal Ione Bond, who also helped found or grow such organizations as the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Southeast Mississippi and the Petal Education Foundation.
“(Bond) really gave me an opportunity, and taught me everything about school business,” Hollimon said. “I’m just so grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to serve, and also just for training me and teaching me all the knowledge that she had.
“She was such a great leader, such a great principal. I just can’t say enough good about her. Mrs. Margaret Tynes (who currently serves as director of federal programs) was the counselor there, and she was also very crucial in teaching me about education and how to be a supportive staff member in education.”
Hollimon stayed at W.L. Smith until 2002, when she had the opportunity to transfer to Petal High School to become the new receptionist there.
“Just that age level (at the high school) – I love being able to serve the teenagers, and be on a mission there to help them,” Hollimon said. “I love to help the parents of that age, because it can be a very hard time with them, when they come in the ninth grade.
“They’re young and trying to learn, and then when they leave in the 12th grade, they’re going into the world as adults and they have those decisions to make. So they change so much from ninth to 12th grade, but I enjoy that age. If you’re not in education, you can have lots of questions and you just need a little help.”
Hollimon believes her passion for that age group was gifted to her by God, as well as the ability to multi-task at a high level. Those skills were certainly needed in her case, as a typical day could see Hollimon helping students with questions about the day, guiding visitors, answering the phones, assisting teachers with issues and supporting the administrators at the school.
“I can help a teacher on the phone, help a parent who comes in the door, help a student, help the administrators and the teachers,” Hollimon said. “God just gifted me with a unique ability to be able to kind of handle all those things at one time.
“There’s a lot going on, and you have to multi-task on all kinds of things. Also, Rosie Kinard was at Petal High School for 35 years – she was the principal’s secretary when I was in high school and when I came in 2002 – and she took me in and taught me everything about education too.”
One of the students Hollimon made an impression on is Cayla Camp Burns, who worked as an office assistant under Hollimon before graduating in 2006.
“One thing I always noticed was her friendliness toward everyone who walked in those doors and into that school,” Burns said. “Also, she had superb organizational skills, which were in the form of a very detailed note-taking process on her desk calendar.
“She was always on top of everything. As a student, for me, her personality and sense of humor made the job enjoyable.”
Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District, said Hollimon’s retirement is bittersweet for members of the district.
“She’s just been a mainstay at Petal High School – one of the first faces that greets you,” he said. “She’s been very instrumental in our success at the high school, in how she has helped countless students, countless staff members, countless leader in her role over many years.
“She is very much going to be missed in our district, and we wish her nothing but the best as she gets to spend more time with her family.”