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Lewis helps keep AHS together 7/29/22

Lewis helps keep AHS together

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


The tears welling in Ida Lewis' eyes tell the story of the family patriarch she never knew. Not in life. 


Last year, the longtime Alma High School office assistant was struggling. Her family within her family allowed her time to grieve. 


“I’ve had a couple of tragedies happen the last couple of years; I’ve had a couple of nephews pass away,” Lewis said. “Last year, I took three weeks off, and they (administration) had my back the entire time. I’m almost in tears talking about it. Nothing was ever said, like when are you coming back? They took care of me; this is my other family.


“I’ve never had such a close-knit work relationship as I do with this office.”


Lewis sits within earshot of principals Brian Kirkendoll, Jason Reeves, and Courtney Cochran, her knowledge and skill set aren’t lost on anyone in the building. 


“We talk a million times a day,” Kirkendoll said. “A lot of things I’ll ask her, she’ll just go take care of it. She’s my right hand.”


“We laugh together, we cry together, and we respect each other,” Lewis said. “The respect for each other is amazing.”


Lewis’s Alma roots run deep. Back in 1979, her parents, Albert and Loretta McElroy uprooted the family from the cool California breezes to hot and humid Arkansas. Ida Lewis couldn’t have been happier. 


“My dad was originally from Arkansas and had decided he wanted to come back,” she said. “His dad took him out there when he was 15, and he had gone into the Army and started raising a family.”


After making annual summer vacation trips to Alma, Albert McElroy decided to move the family to Arkansas in the late ‘70s. 


“When we moved here in 1979, I was in the fifth grade,” she said. “It was a more innocent time.”


Before long, as she grew older, Lewis’ long black was flying through the air as she bicycled her way all over town, traversing J&J’s Restaurant, the swimming pool, and her girlfriend’s house.


“I ran around in the summer on my bicycle; there was no communication and no cell phones,” she said. “Mom just knew when the sun went down, I better be home, and I was.”


Back in the mid-80s, Alma High School included five grades - eighth grade through 12th grade.


“School was fun, and we didn’t have air conditioning at the time,” Lewis said. “You had to go in and out of the buildings and get wet sometimes, but we had fun. The classes were a little bit smaller, so we were close to everybody. With our school being smaller, we would hang out with everybody. 


“You had a lot of friends; it didn’t matter what grade you were in.”


McElroy’s mom, the former Loretta de la Guerra, are descendant of Don Jose de la Guerra (1779-1858) who is considered the first citizen of present-day Santa Barbara. de la Guerra had a big influence on the area during the Spanish and Mexican eras, including the comandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio. 


“He is buried beneath the altar of the Mission in Santa Barbara,” Lewis said. “The house that he built, the de la Guerra, is still there.”


Seventeen years ago, when Lewis signed on to become one of the office secretaries, she reunited with one of her old teachers, Jerry Valentine. 


“Back then, you could take these nine-week mini-courses,” Lewis said. “Jerry Valentine and Mike McSpadden taught them. They were classes like health classes.”


Three years later, as the 1986 Alma alum was preparing to graduate, she heard her name called over the intercom. 


“My senior year, Mr. Valentine was the assistant principal and Leonard Daniel was principal but he was very sick,” Lewis said. “We were in the cafeteria and we were ordering our caps and gowns. Over the intercom, Mr. Valentine said I need Ida McElroy to the office as soon as she’s done. I was an office aide; I thought maybe he needs to know something. 


“He brought me and said a lady (Nancy Campbell) from USA Truck had called and said she needed someone with good typing skills and offered me a job. Mr. Valentine got me my first job.”


“You’ve got to have someone smart, which she is, and who is patient, which she is, but also someone who defends teachers and defends us (administrators),” Kirkendoll added. “She builds relationships; she’s vital.”