Picture-taking brings retired secretary, students closer

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 6, 2013 

There are a million things Donna Ivy could photograph but people are her favorite, especially her five grandchildren and the 1,800 students at Merced’s Golden Valley High School.

Known as the “Mother of Golden Valley,” Ivy retired in June 2001 as the principal’s secretary at GV but still spends considerable time on the East Childs Avenue campus photographing athletic events or student activities.

“I love teenagers; I love to make them laugh,” Ivy said. “I make memories, make them feel comfortable. I don’t just take pictures of the popular kids; I like to get everybody, and I’m able to pick out the ones who are shy or silent and bring them out. I don’t want to leave anybody out, ever.”

With her trusty Canon EOS 60-D digital camera, Ivy has been the pictorial historian since the school opened. She photographs all football, baseball, basketball and wrestling competitions, with a little volleyball and softball thrown in.

Students named Ivy, 67, the grand marshal of their recent homecoming parade. But there was one condition. After Ivy had passed along West Main Street waving at spectators, she doubled back along the parade route, camera in hand, to chronicle the event, with its two dozen floats and costumed characters.

“It (photography) makes me happy,” Ivy said. “It’s my way of creating something. I’m sort of a memory-keeper for the family. It’s just fun and creative to try something new and experiment.”

Austin Worden, GV activities director, said Ivy’s photography efforts are appreciated by everyone at school. She shares her pictures with students and teachers, even helping yearbook students fill in the gaps.

“Donna’s known as the ‘Mother of Golden Valley’ and a true institution to the campus and history of the school,” Worden said. “Her compassion for the students and staff of Golden Valley, both past and present, is real and pure.”

Ivy said she’s not very good being in front of the camera. She would rather be behind it.

“The kids are like my grandkids,” Ivy said. “They’re fascinating. I love to listen to them talk about college and their future. I watch them through weddings, colleges and babies.”

Although Ivy has photographed weddings as favors for close friends, she prefers candid shots of people rather than posed portraits.

Ivy said photography is the bright spot in her day. She started as a sixth-grader with a Brownie Hawkeye. Her other hobby is gardening. That gives her a chance to watch the hummingbirds who also enjoy the flowers in her expansive garden. She photographs both the birds and the flowers.

Why spend so much time at the school? The people at Golden Valley are like family and Ivy said she has developed some amazing friendships over the years. She keeps in touch with former students through Facebook.

Jennifer Mendoza, 17, is the GV student body president and knows Ivy well.

“Donna Ivy is such a sweet lady, always on hand to help,” Mendoza said. “She usually is always helping before being asked. Even though she has retired, I find it endearing that she still attends so many school events.”

Each week Ivy gives a large envelope of pictures of varsity athletic events to coaches and the students. She went to digital photography nine years ago

“I’m amazed I can shoot, shoot and shoot and then delete some,” Ivy said.

She loans her original Canon camera to students for them to experiment.

Principal Constantino Aguilar said Ivy is at all the school’s events – athletics, club functions, band performances or graduation. She has kept a scrapbook every year and her photos constitute a history of Golden Valley.

A Merced resident since 1952, Ivy graduated from Merced High School in 1964. She began working part time in the Merced Union High School District office as a sophomore. After graduation, she went to work for the district full time, handling the bookkeeping, bills and payroll.

She worked for Bank of America for a year, then went back to Merced High School North Campus, where she worked in the book room. From 1974 to 1984 she worked at Atwater High School, from 1984 to 1994 at East Campus as the principal’s secretary and finally from 1994 to 2001 as GV Principal Ralph Swenson’s secretary before retiring.

Ivy and her husband, Jerry, have a son Scott, who is an attorney in Fresno; their daughter Shelley is a nurse-anesthetist in Ventura.

She jokingly said she shows youth that old people can be fun. She loves interacting with students and said they are very caring.

“Just walking in and getting a hug is like Christmas,” she said.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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