Head Start family advocate retiring after 36 years

With her retirement from Jackson County Head Start fast approaching, Gloria Quicksell has mixed emotions about her departure from the agency, as it has been a major part of her life for so long.

“I have worked for Head Start for 36 years,” Quicksell said. “I’ve held the title of bus driver, teacher and family advocate for various counties, but none of them have held a place in my heart like Jackson County has.”

She was going to retire when she turned 75 on July 25, but she wants to stay an extra day to see the kids graduate from Jackson County Head Start on July 26.

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She was born and raised in Columbus and still resides there with her husband, Ernest Quicksell. They have been married for 28 years and have three children. He is retired from Golden Foundry in Columbus.

“I used to drive the sandwich truck and go around to the different factories, and I had met him at the factory,” Gloria said. “Later, I was also doing night home health care, and I had taken a lady to the hospital to see her husband, who was in intensive care.”

Gloria wanted to give the couple their privacy, so she went for a walk down the hall and ran into Ernest, who was a patient there at the time.

“We were both divorced, and he asked that when he got out of the hospital if I’d like to go get a pizza with him,” Gloria said. “I had kids, so I said, ‘Yeah, we can get a pizza big enough to take some home to them,’ and so we did.”

Gloria first began working for the Head Start organization as a bus driver. She then became a teacher and moved on to become a family advocate.

“The family advocate does all the enrollment and the parent involvement, and there is a monthly parent meeting,” Gloria said. “There’s also a fatherhood program every month where just the men come in and they have a meal and do a craft and then they go in with a facilitator and you watch the kids while they have their meeting.”

She said the family advocate also does family goals. She lets them know about energy assistance, where they can get food stamps and what resources are available to them.

“For instance, if a parent says they want to earn a diploma, I can give them some options,” Gloria said. “Another part of the job is doing home visits.”

Working at Head Start over the years, Gloria has enjoyed working with the public and the kids, and it’s something different every day.

She has stayed with the agency over the years because it’s a program she believes in.

“I’ve worked in several centers, including Shelbyville, Franklin, Columbus, Brown County and Seymour, and we’re like a family,” Gloria said. “For years, I had both Brown County and Seymour and drove back and forth. Now for the last couple of years, I’ve just had Seymour.”

Gloria said she has worked with the ABATE organization a lot, and it always have a big Christmas party for the kids.

“They buy every child at Head Start and their siblings a gift, and they do a motorcycle ride,” Gloria said. “The ABATE people go to Walmart and shop, and they spend about $5,000 and usually have some money left over.”

The leftover funds can used by the teachers toward field trips because Head Start does not pay for those. Gloria said they have been able to put some funds back to purchase playground equipment for the local Head Start and also a buddy bench, which JayC Food Stores is installing for them.

“While I have been at Jackson County Head Start, I have worked with different agencies, like United Way, ABATE, Cummins, Valeo and JayC Food Stores, and I just want to thank them,” she said.

Gloria said because of those agencies, the center has been able to acquire and purchase items to help the children and their families succeed and restore and maintain the buildings and grounds. For that and more, she is grateful.

Another fun event for Gloria has been the Jackson County Head Start 500 boxcar derby race, where the preschoolers get to design their own boxcars, race them and then receive a trophy.

The day before, pit night is conducted to give parents a chance to work on their child’s boxcar. Others choose to work on their boxcars at home and bring them to the race. The race has been conducted at Girls Inc. of Jackson County in Seymour for the past several years.

While she is looking forward to retirement, Gloria said she will miss working with the Head Start children and their families the most.

“I want to thank past and present families for sharing their children with me, as I have enjoyed watching them learn, grow and play,” Gloria said. “A special thanks goes out to the dads, grandfathers and other male role models who attended the fatherhood program.”

Gloria said the men have made the program such a success these past two years that it managed to gain local media attention and caught the eye of the National Head Start Association. She will always be proud she was able to help the program achieve that.

Gloria currently works part time at Hilton Garden Inn in Edinburgh in banquet services and bartending. Before that, she was employed at Clarion Hotel Conference Center, formerly Holiday Inn, in Columbus for 30 years before it closed.

“Probably another reason I’ve been working two jobs all this time is that I don’t want to slow down,” she said. “I just want to keep going.”

As Gloria nears her retirement, she is looking forward to having more time to spend with her family, going on cruises and taking vacations. She just recently returned from a Disney cruise with her family.

Sarah Keller, cook and backup site supervisor at the Jackson County Head Start center in Seymour, has worked with Gloria at the agency for 11 years. Keller said it is emotional to talk about Gloria leaving, but she is going to try to rein in her emotions until that last day July 26.

“Gloria is the backbone of this center and is so knowledgeable and knows so much about her job,” Keller said. “She is personable, and she knows the community and just knows how to talk to people.”

Keller said Gloria has been the go-to person when something needs to get done at the center and has been a huge asset to Head Start.

“She is going to be truly missed here, especially by me, and it’s going to be a big change,” Keller said. “Gloria has been here over half her life, and the next person will have very big shoes to fill.”

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Gloria Quicksell grew up in Columbus and still resides there with her husband, Ernest.

Between the two of them, Gloria and Ernest Quicksell have three living children, Linda Meek, Tracey Meek and Tina Miner; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Gloria is a graduate of what is now Columbus East High School, but back then, it was all one high school.

Her secondary education was taking Head Start classes and obtaining her child development associate credentials, commercial driver’s license and family advocate certification.

Jobs before Head Start included waitress, working in pediatrics at a hospital, home health care and owning a trucking company.