By Alanna Fichtel and Radhika Viswanathan
When students see Mr. Thomas Jennings joking and smiling in the halls of South, they would never guess that his past jobs included fighting for and protecting our country. After attending the Marine Corp Institute, Mr. Jennings served in the First Marine Division of the Korean War. He continued serving our country by working as a Unit Supervisor for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department for 30 years and volunteering for the Alert Fire Department of Great Neck for 49 years.
Although his official service duties have ended, Mr. Jennings now patrols the halls of South—and these duties will soon end as well; Mr. Jennings is planning to retire this year. As assistant to the dean, Mr. Jennings supervises the hallways and cafeterias to “make sure everything is on the up and up.”
Few people can complain about how Mr. Jennings does his job because he tries to get along with everyone here—both students and teachers. He says he just tries to “blend in” and “keep the peace by never screaming.”
Mr. Jennings has been most valuable for the intangible services he provides. “Mr. Jennings gets to know the kids who could potentially be in trouble, earns their respect, and really turns them around. Not a lot of people can do that,” said Assistant Principal John Duggan. “It’s one of the things we’re really going to miss.”
Many students have been positively impacted by Mr. Jennings. Junior Alex Cowen said, “He’s really been a mentor to me and motivated me to try as hard as I can and do as much as I can to advance my own interests.”
When Mr. Jennings retires this year, students will miss seeing his familiar, friendly face. “Whenever I come into school, Mr. Jennings is always there to welcome me with a smile and a hello. The hallways and the walk into school every day will feel very different without that welcome,’” Cowen said.
Leaving South after working here for 15 years, Mr. Jennings will surely miss the students the most. “I think that anybody who’s retired from law enforcement has seen the worst of everything, and when you come in to an environment like this, and deal with [students], it’s just a great thing,” says Mr. Jennings. “It’s added years to my life; now, I wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work.”
After retirement, Mr. Jennings plans to travel. “I just want to get in the car and say ‘sayonara,’” he said. He wants to travel both internationally and domestically, visiting his three children and twelve grandchildren.
Although Mr. Jennings’ official job title was “assistant to the dean,” he has been much more than that to the students: he has been a true friend to everyone at South.