In July 19 issue, Russell County NewsBy Derek AaronRussell County News Editor
Imagine yourself at age 92. Are you working? Opal Grider is and that, coupled with the amount of adversity she’s overcome in the last 30 years, makes her an obvious choice for this week’s “Russell County Hero.”
Nominated as a ‘hero’ by her three daughters, Bernia Jean Dunbar of Louisville, Eileen Combest of Quartzsite, Ariz. and Wavia Rexroat of Russell Springs, Grider has set a lifelong example we all can learn something from.
Grider is a cook at the Russell County Middle School where she has worked for a number of years.
“That’s my passion,” Grider said of her job in the school system. “I have always loved children and I love school.”
Grider, who still drives, lost her right eye to melanoma, a form of skin cancer, in 1999 and lost the hearing in her left ear several years after that to Myniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that usually affects both hearing and balance.
Still, through all the recent adversity, Grider has lived a fulfilling and meaningful life.
“I have to be more careful now, but I have adapted real well,” she said. “A lot of people would have given up and said ‘I just can’t do this’ but this has been a challenge to me and I like a challenge.”
Grider said she first started going to school at the age of four, walking an average of two miles to and from school each day with her older sister, Mary.
“I just loved going to school and I love being out with people,” she said.
Grider started as a cook in 1975, taking two years off in 79’ and 80’ to care for her husband, Vertus, who was ill. After he passed away in 1981, Grider went back to work at age 64.
She worked six more years until the school board’s policy of retirement at age 70 forced her into an early exit.
She then worked other jobs for several years until the school board lifted the mandatory retirement policy.
“After that I went back to school and have been there ever since,” she said. During her time as a cook, Grider, who now works four-hour days, has worked two stints at Jamestown Elementary, and at both the high school and the middle school. She worked full-time until she was 87 years old.
“I enjoy my work and I enjoy the people I have become friends with, especially the children.”
She said getting out of bed each day and going to work has kept her young at heart.
Meeting thousands of children over the years has allowed Grider to make a bevy of friends. She said some of the people she used to see in school even had children attending her school now, giving her the privilege of knowing two generations of the same family.
Grider said many people still come up to her and talk to her, years after they first met her in the cafeteria.
“I know a lot of people don’t like school but it’s just been a wonderful experience for me,” she said.
Grider’s tasks in the middle school’s cafeteria include washing and folding towels, working in the dish room, wiping and cleaning tables and whatever else she is asked to do.
“I have got acquainted with more children while I was out there wiping tables,” she said. “They want to help me and some of them did ... and they were all boys, too.”
Grider has some advice for people who want to stay active as they age: “You have to have a goal, something of interest that you enjoy doing,” she said.
“I also walk every day to keep active, if you don’t your body will get old and shut down on you,” she said.
Grider attends Welfare Baptist Church in Jamestown where she was youth Sunday School teacher for 72 years.
She soon will make her way back to school for the fall semester.
When asked is she was thinking about stepping away from her job as a school cook, she smiled and said, “not at this time.”