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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grandkids, 350 of them, surprise ‘Grandma Gene’


Ermagene Gorley, also known as Grandma Gene, gets a surprise school serenade celebrating her 80th birthday and her 39 years of service Friday at McDonald Elementary School where she is a playgound supervisor and lunch lady.
 (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Ermagene Gorley, also known as Grandma Gene, gets a surprise school serenade celebrating her 80th birthday and her 39 years of service Friday at McDonald Elementary School where she is a playgound supervisor and lunch lady. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Not everybody can say they have more than 350 grandchildren.

But Spokane Valley resident Ermagene Gorley can.

Better known as “Grandma Gene” to the children at McDonald Elementary School, Gorley has been controlling the rough-housing on the playground and keeping Central Valley School District students in check in lunch lines for 39 years.

On Friday, McDonald students packed inside the school gym to celebrate Grandma Gene’s 80th birthday. In a surprise assembly, all the staff and students sang “Happy Birthday.”

“I’m probably the oldest employee in the whole district, maybe even Spokane” Gorley joked. “It’s only about two days, and the new little ones start calling me Grandma.”

They didn’t start calling her that until her hair turned gray, she said. Before that, she was just Mrs. Gorley.

Now, even the teachers call her grandma.

“I wish I had her energy,” said first-grade teacher Lynn Winkler. “She’s amazing, she just loves life.”

Gorley was a homemaker with three children when she went to work at University Elementary in September 1966 for one hour a day. She made $2 an hour. At that time, playground supervisors weren’t allowed to wear pants, just skirts.

“I’ve pulled kids off the fence, I’ve been under the fence fetching balls,” Gorley said. “It keeps me active.”

She went to Keystone Elementary in the 1970s, and continued working there one hour per day for the next 33 years. She moved to McDonald two years ago when the school was remodeled and Keystone was made into a child-care center. Now she works two hours a day, five days a week and hasn’t missed but maybe two weeks in all of her 39 years, she said.

“I’m kind of a creature of habit; this fills my day,” Gorley said. “I love what I do, and I’m not worn out yet.”

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