Nanette and Calvin Toler met as students at Tyler Lee High School. They developed a friendship that blossomed into romance. That led to marriage. Then they both got jobs in Tyler ISD, where they’ve worked for the last four decades.
Most of their work life has been back at Lee, where they still work.
It all started when as seniors they were in the same art class at Lee and got acquainted. They began dating while still in high school and graduated in 1975. They continued dating after graduation, married and began working for Tyler ISD.
He is a maintenance assistant and she is a cafeteria worker.
Forty years later, they still drive together to work at Lee. They like the camaraderie with Lee teachers and staff, whom they say are “like a family out here,” and they enjoy the students. They have formed bonds with fellow employees and students.
Calvin Toler has worked for Tyler ISD for 43 years, starting on a summer grounds crew that went from campus to campus. But most of his tenure has been at Lee.
Similarly, Nanette Toler has worked in Tyler ISD for 40 years. She has been at Lee 35 years, five years at Rice Elementary and briefly at Peete Elementary, Hubbard Middle School and John Tyler High School.
Calvin Toler said he started working for Tyler ISD because his father already worked on the tractor crew that went around mowing at different schools. Nanette Toler said she put in her application about a year after graduating and got hired.
The couple ended up working together long term at Lee, where they had previously walked the hallways as students.
Calvin Toler said, “It just seemed to fit.”
The experience has brought rewards.
Calvin Toler said, “You make a lot of friends and you get to know people. The camaraderie and friendships are my prominent memory. We’ve made lifelong friends out here.”
Nanette Toler said, “You get to know the kids and it’s fun.”
Every now and then when circulating around town, the Tolers see young people who graduated long ago and have grown up. The young people stop them on the street or in a grocery store and say they remember that he works in maintenance and she works in the cafeteria. They ask if the couple still work at Lee and they say they are still on the job.
Nanette Toler, a vegetable cook and server on the burger line in Lee’s cafeteria, said she knows what some kids want when they come through the line before they tell her because they get the same thing every day.
“I like serving the kids,” she said. She starts her day about 7 a.m. cooking vegetables in big quantities in steamers. But around 11 a.m., she switches to the burger line when students begin coming to the cafeteria for lunch.
Years ago when she first started, Nanette Toler remembers that cafeteria workers “made everything from scratch” and she used to peel a 50-pound bag of potatoes in one day in preparation for however many they were going to serve. “It’s come a long way from the way it used to be.”
A dramatic change that the couple recalls happened about a year after they started work when Tyler ISD stopped paying employees every two weeks and began paying them monthly.
Calvin Toler said he has seen a lot of changes at Lee involving remodeling through the years, and now there’s a new building under construction.
He said his job as maintenance assistant involves a variety of duties, “everything from the floor to the ceiling.”
Calvin Toler helps look after plumbing and air conditioning needs on campus, although air conditioning technicians from Tyler ISD’s central office are called in occasionally.
He also works on door locks, installs lighting if bulbs are burned out, replaces ballasts and does other maintenance, such as painting, assembling bookcases and putting together office chairs.
He remembers the days when classrooms were heated or cooled by either a heated water system or a chill system that pumped water around the school. He used to check on the boiler room to see if it was working properly. Now individual air conditioning units sit on the roof and he goes up on the roof to service them.
In the couple’s early years at Lee, they even chaperoned on chartered buses filled with students going to out-of-town football games.