Chenella reflects on retirement
Joe Chenella – Bridge City teacher, principal and assistant superintendent – has announced the end of his nearly 50 years with the school district.
When Chenella was named to the Lamar University Education Hall of Fame in 2009, the man who’s district career began in 1962 was described as an “irreplaceable asset” by Superintendent Jamey Harrison.
Today that account has not changed.
“We absolutely wish Joe all the best in retirement,” Harrison says. “Anytime you lose someone with 48 years in the district, and in the central office about half that, you lose a great deal of institutional history and knowledge that is hard to replace.”
Chenella, whose many honors include The Record Newspapers’ Person of the Year in 2008, has seen three district high schools in his 48 years, as well as two major hurricanes.
“Bridge City was real small when I got here,” he says. “We probably graduated 20 to 25 that first year.”
Chenella certainly knows his figures, give or take a few numbers, as he’s been a meticulous record keeper over the years. He says he saw 4,407 graduates while a teacher, assistant principal or principal, and at least 2,053 as principal.
“I see them everywhere. And not just here. I can get on a plane and go somewhere and see somebody. I can be in Dallas or someplace like that, and sure enough someone’s going to recognize me.”
Most incredibly, he has never taken a sick day, which he attributes to the way he was raised.
“That was my Italian heritage. That’s the way it was. [My parents] had a grocery store in Beaumont, and there wasn’t anyone going to take your place. You went to work.”
The span of Chenella’s career encompasses the famed 1966 Class-3A State Football Championship under Cardinal Coach H.W. “Chief” Wilson.
“That championship was a great event for this community,” Chenella says. “It just kind of brought it all together – that and the building of the Gulf States Utilities plant.”
Chenella himself coached championship teams in UIL Slide Rule and Number Sense from 1963-67. Chenella and his wife Nancy married in 1967, and their daughter Meredith is a 2004 graduate of Bridge City High and a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M.
In 1986, Chenella became assistant superintendent and has served three times as interim superintendent. Steering the “Renovations and New Building Program” for BCISD, Chenella’s leadership was crucial in the building of the new high school and district-wide renovation project following the successful $19.79 million school bond election in 2001.
Of his retirement, he says he plans to stay in Bridge City and “just do what I can do to help from a different side of the fence.”
“Bridge City ISD has afforded an awesome career for me both personally and professionally,” he says. “I know that I have been blessed by choosing the field of education as my career. I was well prepared by Lamar University to serve in the field of education and to experience the successes I have accomplished in my career at Bridge City ISD.”
He thanks Glenn Pearson and Bill Godwin, who encouraged him to go into administration.
“I owe a great deal of my success to these two and also to Dr. E.E. Sims, who encouraged me to begin working in Bridge City ISD in 1962. I would like to thank [former Superintendent] Sam Lucia for his leadership during our extensive building program and for allowing me to share in the construction duties. The other superintendents I worked with are Bill Ortego and Dr. Darrell Myers, who also provided great leadership. Also thanks to my three secretaries I had – Martha Moss, Peggy Russell and Virginia Fox.
“Thanks also to Dr. Harrison, the school board and fellow administrators and staff members for their support during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and for providing the leadership to make Bridge City ISD ‘The Best in Texas.’ And last but not least, I would like to thank my wife Nancy and daughter Meredith for without their support and encouragement I could not have had the successes that I have experienced here at Bridge City.”
Chenella’s Secretary Virginia Fox also retires this year. She has worked with “Mr. C.” as she calls him, for 13 of her 18 years with BCISD. She plans on “taking life easy and traveling.”
Her husband Robert also recently retired. “We want to go to Washington D.C., maybe in the spring,” she says. There is also a good chance a trip to Alaska may be in their future, as their daughter, Melinda, lives there with her husband (who is in the Coast Guard). Their other daughter Kimberly lives in Houston with her husband.
Fox will continue to work on a limited part-time basis for the district dealing with Hurricane Ike and insurance issues only.
Harrison says that with a projected $18 million in state-level shortfalls on the way, it may be necessary not to replace Chenella but divide some of his duties among other department heads.
“That will help us trend down our central office and help us to anticipate these budget cuts,” he says. “At least that’s the plan for now, anyway.”