TORRINGTON – The Goshen County School District’s recently retired media specialist, Mary Perkins, has not always enjoyed reading.
“I really was not a big reader in school,” Perkins said. “Sitting down to read a book, to me, was boring.”
Perkins has since impacted countless students in school libraries, in math and business classrooms and on the tennis court.
What changed for Perkins was her best friend introducing her to Stephan King books. She has since encouraged students to find a book, author or even a magazine they enjoy and simply read a lot of that.
“You don’t realize how you impacted people,” Perkins said.
Getting to see and hear from past students has been the most rewarding part of her career. She has enjoyed receiving cards and notes from students. Perkins also said she will miss getting to interact with her coworkers every day.
“I’m just going to miss that daily ‘hello’ and checking in with people,” she said. “It feels like family, and I hope it continues to feel like that.”
Perkins, who had previously wanted to be a physical therapist, then an accountant, decided she wanted to work with students after helping with her church’s youth group.
Perkins grew up and went to school in Casper. After attending Casper College, she went to the University of Wyoming, but did not finish her degree until later.
When Perkins moved to Torrington her daughter was nine months old. Her husband, Mark had gotten a job teaching. By the time Perkins finished her degree, the couple had decided to stay, to keep their kids in the school system.
After taking what she could at Eastern Wyoming College, Perkins finished her math and business degrees at Chadron State College in 1992, while her husband took care of the kids.
Perkins said in school she had not been great at math.
“I thought if I can learn how to do math, I could teach other people how to do math,” she said. “So that’s what I challenged myself to do – to get a math degree.”
Her decision to study business stemmed from an area she did like. Perkins said she worked at a bank in Casper, and they paid for her to take an accounting class, which she loved.
“It took me until I was 28 to really figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Perkins said.
Perkins began her career in the Goshen County School District (GCSD) in 1993, when she was hired at Torrington Middle School (TMS), to teach math.
Perkins said she taught math for six years.
In 1999, Perkins said a position to teach business and a tennis head coach position opened at Torrington High School (THS). She applied for both and was offered both.
Perkins, her husband and a friend took up tennis as a hobby and played a lot in Casper.
Since there wasn’t much of a tennis community in Torrington, Perkins said she would go to Gering every Thursday to play, for about 15 years. She also started getting involved in the United States Tennis Association (USTA). She is on the executive board for the Wyoming Tennis Association (WYOTA).
Perkins taught business at THS for six years. In 2006, the media specialist position opened at the high school. At the time, Perkins said she did not have an endorsement for the job.
“So, I went down and asked my principal, ‘is that a job I could apply for?’ and he said, ‘well, it’s yours if you want it,’” Perkins explained.
At the time, Perkins said she had been getting burnt out from all the paperwork she was doing, since the business department was small.
“I have to know where my students are and where they’re struggling. So when you’re taking home 100 papers every other night, 50 papers a night, I thought, I don’t know if I can go at this pace forever,” Perkins said. “I just needed a change.”
Perkins said it was important for her to spend time on each paper or assignment since students had put in their own work.
Perkins said she got her provisional for the media specialist job and started working toward her degree.
“It really was the perfect move for me,” Perkins said.
While Perkins was working at THS, the media specialist at TMS retired. Perkins took on that role, working at both schools.
Last year, Perkins said the district decided to only have one specialist for all the schools.
“At first I was like, ‘I’ve done two schools, but I don’t know how to do six,” Perkins said.
Perkins said the library assistants at every school were great to work with and helped keep things running smoothly. Perkins’ schedule varied week by week, depending on what was happening in each school.
According to Perkins, having one media specialist in the district helped the connection and communication between each school library.
“Everybody just started working together and that was probably the coolest thing that came out of what happened last year,” Perkins said.
Perkins’ tennis coaching career started in 1999. She was head coach for 18 years. In 2017 she became assistant coach for another four years.
Perkins said she first started noticing a drop in energy in 2016.
“In 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer,” said Perkins. “What happened was, they found a big tumor on one of my ovaries.”
Perkins was sent to a hospital in Colorado; she was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer.
“They did a CAT scan and I just lit up everywhere,” she said.
Perkins said doctors did a hysterectomy, took out her appendix and took what they could of other areas.
“The problem with neuroendocrine, it’s in the endocrine system, so they’re little, tiny tumors and they just freckle themselves everywhere,” she said. “Right now, I’m fighting the liver.”
Perkins explained that neuroendocrine cancer typically spreads and grows slowly, but hers has been more quickly.
Recently, Perkins had a liver embolization to cut off blood supply to the tumors.
“The first time they did my right lobe I got really sick, and this was during school,” Perkins said. “And that’s when I knew I needed to retire.”
Perkins said she felt that was God’s way of telling her it was time to be done. She continues treatment with her specialist in Colorado.
Perkins said her main plans for retirement are checking off some travel destinations.
“My big one is going to the Australian Open, which is always in January,” Perkins said. She hopes to spend a month exploring the country. She also wants to make it back to the Indian Wells tournament.
“There’s just all kinds of places we want to go,” she said. Perkins plans to visit one of her best friends in Washington D.C., go to New York, where she and her husband went on their first date.