Wendy Cowley pulls out some animals that she uses to get kids happy when they are having a bad day.
No matter who walks into Castle Heights Elementary School, one of the first faces that will greet him is the ever-smiling face of Wendy Cowley. She has been that way for eight years now. But even with the bustle that goes with some of the first few days of school, the first thing she wants to show off is the pictures of her new granddaughter, Alexia. Alexia was born in July to Cowley's son, Daniel.
Stopping every few minutes to answer the phone or direct a visitor in the right direction, Cowley talked about her family. She has been married to her husband Pete for 32 years.
When asked how she met him, she replied, "Through a friend." She went on to say that the friend had asked her out and she said no, but she was interested in his friend, Pete. They are still in love to this day.
Her son, Daniel, is married and living in Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife, Cortney, and their new baby. He has finished dental school and is studying to be an orthodontist. She has another son, Daniel, who lives at home and is employed by Cripps Electric.
In 1992, her son, Christopher Cowley, lost his battle with cystic fibrosis. In his final months, she made the choice to let him attend school instead of keeping him home resting. Castle Heights Principal Jan Cox remembers the day Cowley came to her at Creekview and said, "I'm enrolling him in school. It may shorten his life, but there is something to be said for the quality of the life he has left to live." He attended school with IV's and oxygen tanks, but he enjoyed his friends and teachers. Christopher died at the age of 12.
In addition to her husband and kids, she also finds time to make sure her 87 year- old mom is doing well. She visits with her often, helps get her to the doctor and other necessary appointments.
Cowley has not let even this slow her down. She worked for a teacher's aide at Creekview before transferring to Castle Heights. She is the glue that seems to hold it all together.
All around her, the office buzzed with the chaos of a normal school day. But everyone that came through the space had much to add about what Cowley adds to life at Castle Heights. The room was filled with laughter and anecdotes about the day-to-day life as a secretary at the school.
Traci Harmond had just transferred over from Mount Harmon this year and talked about how much life there is in the office space and school. She observed that it is Cowley that puts that spark into things.
"She can multi-task like you can't believe, but she is very mothering with each and every child that comes in," Harmond stated.
Principal Cox came out from her office and added, "She is the most organized person I know. No matter what I need, from budgets to staples, she can put her finger on it now. I rely on her for almost everything."
Cowley was born in Price. When she was in fourth grade, her father injured his back in the coal mines. They moved to Provo so he could go to school. She stayed there until high school. Her father had recovered enough that they moved to Paonia, Colorado, and he returned to work in the mines. Shortly after that, they returned to Price. She has been here ever since.
"I love living here in Price." she said, "It is a small enough community that when something happens they all pull together. It's big enough that people mind their own business unless they are needed."
Her family had a lot of civic support during her son's illness.
When she is not in school, she loves to read and crochet. She also admitted to being a master bread maker. She bragged that she seldom buys bread from the grocery store. She learned from her mother-in-law who was herself an excellent cook.
Her first love is spending time with her family. With the arrival of the newest member to the family, she plans on heading to Vegas. But gambling is not what she is headed for. It will be the grandchild that gets her heart racing.
She also likes to hunt, camp, and go four-wheeling. A few years back, she drew out on only one of two elk permits that were issued for the southwestern region. She bagged a six- point elk down by Cedar Mountain near Ferron.
On this afternoon, Cowley needed to keep track of a young boy who couldn't follow the rules while his class went outside for a walk. He seemed a bit embarrassed to have to sit there under her watchful eye.
She is also sometimes the first line of defense when a child is having a bad day. Her weapon is a bin full of animals kept under the desk. She pulled them out and made each one sing and dance and laugh to demonstrate their healing powers.
She has personal interactions with at least fifty kids every day and fields more than fifty calls from parents each day. She shares phone answering duties with Shauna Barney and the principal. She also gets help from high school students that come over to help. They have so much fun in the office that they show up on days they aren't even required to. Cowley says that parents tell her that every school has its own climate and they feel like Castle Heights is one of the best.
The day the author was there twenty first graders were lined up by the window of her office preparing to go out to the bus. Most had their noses plastered on the glass as they peered in to get her attention and a wave.
She laughed and rolled her eyes as she said, "That's what I love about this place... all these kids!"