Richmond High School's Doreen Bentley and Gai Verhagen, retiring after 30 years

MEMORIES: Doreen Bentley and Gai Verhagen are both retiring from their posts at Richmond High after 30 years of service to the school. Picture: Geoff Jones
MEMORIES: Doreen Bentley and Gai Verhagen are both retiring from their posts at Richmond High after 30 years of service to the school. Picture: Geoff Jones

A LOT has happened over the past 30 years behind the scenes at Richmond High School.

Two local ladies, Doreen Bentley of Kurmond and Richmond’s Gai Verhagen, have witnessed generations come through the school’s doors - Doreen from her post in administration and Gai in the finance department.

The duo are Hawkesbury locals through and through - both were born locally (as were their parents and grandparents before them), and both attended school at Richmond High, where they would both go on to work.

This year, after three decades serving the school community, Doreen and Gai are both celebrating their retirements.

Doreen’s story

Doreen Bentley (maiden name Shepherd) attended Richmond High School from 1960, then left in 1963 to undertake a secretarial course. She began working at Richmond High in 1986.

“Prior to working with the Department of Education I worked at Bank of NSW Richmond. Val Roberts was the office manager at Richmond High then, and knew me from my banking days,” Doreen said.

“The year my younger daughter started school she invited me to come to the school and do some typing for her instead of going home and being sad! Here began my association with Richmond High.”

She remained employed on a casual basis for some time, and became permanent in 1991. “The majority of my time was at RHS but because staffing revolves around the number of students a school has I did a year or so at Hawkesbury High School as RHS numbers decreased. Then role reversal happened: Hawkesbury High’s numbers dropped and RHS’s increased and so I was able to return to them,” she said.

Doreen has seen many changes in technology and office systems during her time - from the typewriter days to the commencement of computers. The buildings themselves have changed significantly, too.

“When I began at Richmond High, the school buildings were metal buildings on piers, with no air-conditioning. We saw the change to brick buildings and in very recent years we had air-conditioners added to our offices,” she said.

She also recalls the school’s ‘Bini Shell’ being built in 1977 - later named the Milton Alston Centre (MAC) in honour of industrial arts teacher Milton Alston's 40 years of service to the school. Next year (in 2018), it will make way for a new, modern hall.

“I have worked with some marvelous fellow members, both teaching staff and administration and have formed many great friendships over the years,” Doreen said.

“Along the way I was lucky enough to have my eldest daughter teaching casual with us for some time before taking a permanent position at Colo High and also over the last couple of years having my youngest working with me in admin.”

During this time, she has seen many students begin Year 7 and finish Year 12 - some students that have come through the school have been the children of locals who were students themselves in her earlier years of employment, and have gone on to send their own kids to the school.

“Having attended Richmond High as a student myself I have also seen grandchildren of some of my fellow students come through our doors. It has been good to watch so many great students grow and develop into such mature adults,” Doreen said.

“I can honestly say I have enjoyed my ride at RHS and I know I will really miss the everyday involvement, but I look forward to spending more time travelling and doing the things my husband and I have haven’t had the time to do.”

Gai’s story

Gai Verhagen (maiden name Willmott) attended Richmond High School from 1964 until 1967 - so though her and Doreen’s paths didn’t cross while they were students, their families knew each other and they became acquainted while they were both working in Richmond after high school.

Gai began casual work at RHS in 1985, then was appointed permanent in 1987, before retiring in July this year (following 12 months of sick and long-service leave).

“I have seen four principals and many deputy principals work at RHS,” Gai said, and added one of the highlights of her time there was witnessing multiple generations of families passing through for their schooling.

Like Doreen, Gai also recalls huge changes in technology over the years. “I can remember buying typewriter ribbons. I can remember when we got the new fancy IBM typewriter - everybody thought that was fantastic!” she laughed.

A significant development she witnessed over the years was the reduction in student and staff numbers: “In 1987 there were over 1100 students, and about 100 staff. Now it’s down to around 560 students. This is because the drawing area has dropped - back then, there wasn’t any Hawkesbury High School, Arndell or St Paul’s, so everybody came here but now they’re spread over the schools.”

Gai and Doreen will keep in touch. “We go to the gym together!” said Gai. “Over the years we’ve gone on various bonding trips together, and we’ll continue doing this. All the staff supported each other over the years - it was a very happy working environment.

“We’ve both worked with some great staff, and we’ve made some great friendships.”