Sitting on an end table in Mary S. Warner’s home is a large, glittery pink mug that reads “Boss Lady.” It was a gift from a friend at Effingham County High School, where Mary worked for almost three decades, and it sums up the way everyone at ECHS — from preschoolers to principals — feels about her. For the past 28 years, that’s exactly what Mary has been – the boss. As head custodian at ECHS, she led a team of coworkers and “checked to make sure everything was okay to begin the day” every morning before school started.
Mary is a lifelong resident of Effingham and began her career at the original ECHS, working as a substitute custodian for two years before becoming one of the first employees to enter the current ECHS in 1987. After only a year, she became head custodian and maintained her leadership role until she retired in early June.
Every day, Mary awoke at 5:30 AM to get ready for work. Throughout the years, her schedule shifted to later hours, but she always rose before the sun. Since retiring, Mary hasn’t set a single alarm and doesn’t plan on doing so any time soon.
At one point a few summers ago, Mary jokingly hinted to Dr. Yancy Ford that she was approaching retirement. The next day, she arrived at work to find a sign with her name marking a parking spot at the entrance of the school.
“Mr. Ford put my reserved parking space right at the front. He gave me that so I could come back to work, but I wasn’t quitting anyway!” She laughed. “I was just messing with him, but I got my own parking spot!”
To this day, Mary remains the only custodian to have a designated spot. Though she no longer needs to park at ECHS, Mary is relocating her sign to her home for safekeeping.
During her time at ECHS, Mary formed a special bond with colleague Gloria Davis. The two did everything together, including Mary’s favorite task: waxing floors.
“I love waxing floors,” she said. “At the end of the year after the teachers and the kids leave, they take out all their desks for us, and we wax the classrooms.”
The two women were partners on the job until Gloria passed away last January, and Eric Warner, Mary’s cousin, joined her team. In addition to Eric, Mary recruited some seasonal assistants to help tidy the school when the hallway traffic was light.
Every summer, she took two protégés, Jim Ford and Graham Mongin, under her wing. While the classrooms were empty, Mary taught her apprentices how to clean floors and operate scrubbing machines. Together they ensured the school would be sparkling by the time teachers and students returned in August.
Over her 28 years with the Rebels, Mary experienced multiple changes. She worked with every principal who passed through the current ECHS and witnessed multiple additions to the school’s architecture, but one thing always remained the same: her adoration for the students.
“All the kids love me, and I love the kids. Pre-k…that’s my heart. They know Mrs. Mary. ‘There’s the boss! That’s Mrs. Mary!’ That’s what they’d say,” She laughed.
The students were not alone in their admiration for the Boss Lady. When Mary tied the knot with her “wonderful husband” Frank Warner three years ago, many ECHS employees attended the ceremony, including her summer pupil Jim, who was a member of the wedding party.
From attending prom and grad bash to gaining the respect and appreciation of every student who walked the halls, Mary certainly left her mark on ECHS. But all things must come to an end, and Mary felt it was time to close the curtains on her stint at ECHS.
“I really enjoyed working at the school all these years,” she said. “That was everything to me, but it’s all about Mary now!”
In the past, Mary has taken breaks, temporarily retired and made surprise returns to her position at ECHS, but she doesn’t think she will be reprising her role as head custodian any time in the future. For now, she is looking forward to the simple pleasures of retired life, including “watching her soap operas and sitting on the front porch with her cat!”