October 05, 2010

Teacher's Aide Wins Older Worker of the Year Contest

Nina George, a teacher’s aide for 44 years, has won Missouri’s 2010 Older Worker of the Year Contest. Missouri First Lady Georganne Wheeler Nixon presented the award to George last month at a luncheon attended by eleven other statewide finalists at the Governor’s Mansion.

George, 77, started working as a cook at South Holt R-1 School District in rural Oregon, Mo., in 1965. The following year, she became a teacher’s aide.

“Mrs. George is always at work and very seldom takes a sick or personal day,” said Bob Ottman, the school’s superintendent. “She can be counted on to arrive 15 minutes early and stay late until the work is done, or no more children need help. Whether at recess or helping students with reading, their basic needs will be met.”

George treats the elementary school children like they are her own, often spending her own money to ensure they have school supplies, snacks, clothing and field trip money.

“But she doesn’t want anyone to know where the money came from. In fact, she shuns the limelight,” Ottman said.

George apparently inherited the spirit of quiet giving from her mother. “I didn’t know all the wonderful things my mother did until she passed away,” George said. “Neighbors came to our house and asked, ‘Did you know your mother bought a dress for my daughter’s eighth-grade graduation because we didn’t have the money’? ‘Did you know your mother bought gas for our car when we couldn’t afford it’?”

“An ex-World War II soldier, a stranger, even came to the house and said he probably would have gone AWOL if my mother hadn’t sent him all those hand-drawn cartoons and cards,” she said.

But there’s also a steely resolve to George that helped her overcome breast cancer and a severe stroke in 2002, despite doctors’ predictions that she would never walk again.

“I kind of have a temper,” she jokes. “My husband will vouch for that.” Her students also vouch for her fun-loving, impish side.

Photos of George and the other eleven finalists being honored by First Lady Nixon are available at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/49879968@N04/5018157397/.

The 20th annual Older Worker of the Year contest is sponsored by the Missouri Senior Employment Coordinating Committee, consisting of the AARP Foundation; Experience Works, Inc.; Catholic Charities of Kansas City; MERS/Missouri Goodwill Industries; the Department of Economic Development/Division of Workforce Development; and the Department of Health and Senior Services/Division of Senior and Disability Services.