Helen Villarreal has been the only women to be hired by Porterville Unified School District’s (PUSD) Maintenance Department, and after 26 years with the department she’s heading off into retirement. 

In order to send her off into her retirement in style, PUSD employees and the maintenance department celebrated Villarreal’s career with a luncheon on Tuesday afternoon in the Porterville Military Academy (PMA) gymnasium.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Villarreal entered the PMA gym stylishly in jeans, tennis shoes and a nice black top and black and white sweater. More than 50 people were already there ready to celebrate with her. She was met with applause and camera flashes as some of her co-workers snapped pictures of her entrance. She made her way to a table full of gifts, flowers, cake, cupcakes and a large “H” filled with signatures from people who have worked with her over the years. A flashy gold banner stating ‘The Legend Has Retired’ hung high on the stage in the gym, signifying the end of Villarreal’s long career with PUSD.

After beginning her career working with students through Proteus, Villarreal says her time with PUSD has been enjoyable. She was full of mixed emotions at her luncheon and couldn’t help but shed a few bittersweet tears about her departure.

“I started in 1994 running crews for Proteus with the high school kids,” said Villarreal. “Proteus used to send them out to schools or parks, stuff like that, and the school didn’t have to pay them. It was on the Proteus insurance. Now all those kids are teachers or working for maintenance. Some of the guys are working for maintenance and remember me from school and stuff. A lot of them were working at the casino. They’re adults with kids now, so I’ve enjoyed it.”

A half an hour passed when the announcement came tacos were ready to be served. Villarreal’s table was excused first, before the remainder of the guests filed into line. Even PUSD Superintendent Nate Nelson joined the party, talking and laughing with Villarreal over a plate of tacos.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with (Villarreal) for a lot of years, and have really enjoyed the passion she took in her job every day,” said Nelson. “It’s really exciting to have somebody take that much pleasure in doing their job as she did.”

Before everyone began to depart, Villarreal was asked to cut into her custom paint can cake. Several of her co-workers gather around her as she took the knife and cut a thick slice off of the side. Several group photos were snapped including a few of Villarreal and her children, her crew and the Maintenance Department as a whole. As guests began to trickle out, they took the time to wish her well in her future endeavors.

“I do real estate, so I’m thinking about doing real estate and just doing me,” said Villarreal about her plans for retirement. “I’ve been working since 12-years-old and I’ve never had me time. I’m going to go to the gym. I’m going to walk my fat dog. Just things like that that are probably minimal but there are something I’ve never had time to do. I’m just going to do me.”

Although she’s leaving PUSD’s Maintenance Department, her hopes are high for whoever is chosen to take her spot. She would really like to see more women apply for the position, in hopes she won’t be the last women hired in the department.

“I’m hoping that more women apply,” said Villarreal. “I’m hoping that I’m not the first and last women in maintenance. I hope that whoever takes over takes pride in their work and does as well as I did, and take pride, like I did, in keeping up the schools.”

Villarreal’s retirement officially began today.

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