Secretary Kathy Nibbelink adds role in “The Little Mermaid” to list of accomplishments before retiring

Secretary Kathy Nibbelink adds role in The Little Mermaid to list of accomplishments before retiring

“To the counseling office…”

Any student who has heard those four words broadcasted through the halls of FHC between classes needs no introduction to Kathy Nibbelink. Nibbelink has worked as a secretary at FHC for more than twenty years and is one of the voices behind all those names which are summoned to the office on a daily basis.

“It’s a long trip here,” Nibbelink said of her path to her current job at FHC. “I went to cosmetology school and did nails … for a couple years, and then I went to work for an interior design firm and worked at their front desk. I did that for a few years, and then an opening became available at Cornerstone in the student development office, so I went there. … [After that,] just out of the blue, … they called me for an interview here. One of the front office secretaries was leaving so I did the interview, … and I got the job. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

The final chapter of Nibbelink’s FHC history is being written right now as she approaches her retirement at the end of this school year. This chapter, however, is far from a denouement. In fact, it has taken a highly unconventional twist which students will be able to observe firsthand in just a few weeks.

Nibbelink’s small black nameplate is one of the first things students see perched on the front desk of the counseling office as they walk in to pick up test results or ask college questions. The words “Mrs. Kathy Nibbelink” stretch across the narrow rectangular sign in white, all-capital letters. This winter, however, those words appeared on a different sign: the spring musical cast list.

“I wanted her to do a show with us during her last year here,” said English teacher and theater director Robin DeMeester of the decision to cast Nibbelink as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. “She’s done a lot of theater through the years. She’s not a novice!”

Nibbelink, who has performed in many Calvary Church productions with DeMeester, will be singing and dancing alongside student cast members March 17-19 as one of the leads in The Little Mermaid. Joining the production at DeMeester’s request, Nibbelink has been memorizing lines, practicing music, and attending rehearsals with the students she ordinarily only sees as they rush in and out of the counseling office during their five-minute passing time. In a process she describes as “a hoot,” Nibbelink’s role as Ursula has transformed her from office secretary to co-star in the eyes of The Little Mermaid’s cast.

Though Nibbelink has gained performance experience as an adult, her theater career did not begin in high school. As a “horribly shy” student, Nibbelink was “terrified” of performing. Although she played piano and served as an accompanist for other students, she had no desire to take center stage herself.

“I wouldn’t have any more gotten up on a stage and done that than the man on the moon,” Nibbelink said. “My hat is off to the students here who do that. The talent blows me away. Absolutely blows me away. I watch them sing and dance and I just want to do a standing ovation every time I see them. It just amazes me how good they are.”

Nibbelink’s own experience with theater began several years ago as she sat in the audience during one of Calvary Church’s annual Christmas productions. There, inspiration took hold, and her journey to the role of Ursula began.

“I have no idea what prompted me to do this, but I was sitting in the balcony watching one of the shows, and … I remember thinking ‘I could do that. That looks like fun.’ So I auditioned the next time around,” Nibbelink said.

DeMeester gave her a part, and the two remained friends as they continued to do occasional Calvary productions and work together.

“She has always been emotionally and spiritually encouraging to me,” DeMeester said of Nibbelink. “She cares for me and the theatre program.”

Nibbelink repeatedly emphasizes the talent of her co-stars when talking about The Little Mermaid, crediting their performing prowess with pushing her to master her role. At first, she found the idea of rehearsing with the students somewhat daunting.

“I was intimidated by them!” she said with a laugh. “They’re so good, and the last thing I wanted to do was come in as the secretary in the counseling office and flub everything and not know my lines and not know my music and not know my blocking and make a fool of myself, because I know they’re really good. So they intimidated me, and they made me be better. They made me do my homework and make sure that I knew everything.”

The unique opportunity for staff members to be part of a student musical has, according to DeMeester, lent a “sense of professionalism” to the cast, as well as allowed the FHC staff seem “more accessible” to students.

Nibbelink hopes along with DeMeester that the students she has worked with on the musical have had as much fun working with her as she has had with them.

“I’m not as scary as I may look,” she said. “Hopefully the kids that I’m working with in the play are pleasantly surprised by my personality once they get to know me a little bit, because it can be daunting. [As a secretary,] you sit behind that desk and you have that [role as an] authority figure. I’m harmless.”

Nibbelink’s colleagues vouch for this “harmlessness,” recalling many happy memories of their time working with her.

“Kathy makes me laugh every day,” said fellow secretary Mary Beth Stout. “I have so many great memories from working with her.  She makes coming to work fun.  She enjoys a good laugh, even if it is at her own expense, and she can take it as well as she can dish it.”

Secretary Arlene Graham has worked with Nibbelink since coming to FHC sixteen years ago and says she picked up on Nibbelink’s good humor almost immediately.

“Shortly after I started I knew it was going to be a journey when I got shot with a Nerf gun from across the office,” Graham said. “And it has been a journey.”

In the years since both Graham and Nibbelink have been at FHC, the school has seen three principals, nine assistant principals, six athletic directors, several counselors, and survived “numerous construction jobs.”

“Mrs. Nibbelink has always kept a great sense of humor throughout,” Graham said. “She will be missed.”

Gratitude in regards to Nibbelink and her role at FHC goes both ways. Just as she admires the talent of her Little Mermaid castmates, Nibbelink holds deep appreciation for both the students and staff at FHC.

“I am amazed at the dedication that they have to their grade point average, getting into college, getting scholarships, getting ahead, involvement in extracurricular activities and that kind of thing,” Nibbelink said of the students she interacts with each day. “It’s pretty amazing their work ethic and [the way] they’re involved in their future. They want to get ahead. And I think that’s great.”

She also has praise for the teachers of the school where she has spent over two decades doing behind-the-scenes work.

“I think oftentimes in the press and in the paper or on the television, teachers come across as whiners and complainers,” Nibbelink acknowledged. “But there’s an undercurrent, especially here, and I hear it because teachers come down and they’re concerned about one particular student or they’re concerned about a trend they’re seeing, and they’ll come down and talk to the counselors about it. They really do have a burden for their students, to help teach them and help them to learn and be successful.”

From her domain of the counseling office, Nibbelink has observed over twenty years of FHC history. Though her time at the school is approaching its end, the possibilities outside the walls of FHC for Nibbelink are doing just the opposite. Already busy with her therapy dog, eleven grandchildren, piano-playing, and theater involvement, Nibbelink plans to add travelling and volunteering to her list of activities in retirement. As of right now, “all options are open” regarding what her life may look like after she calls her last list of names down to the counseling office.

“It’s been a fun ride,” Nibbelink said. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”