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Ron and Janelle: a legacy of friendship

As TAFE Queensland nears its 140 year milestone, foundation Kingaroy staff Ron Trace and Janelle Little share their stories of friendship at TAFE Queensland.

Ron Trace and Janelle Little both started work at the TAFE Queensland Kingaroy campus on September 2 1985. A bitterly cold and blustery day, together with around 60 other new staff members, they unlocked the doors of the brand-new campus and got ready to roll up their sleeves to finish the fit out ready for classes to commence in the beginning of 1986.

As is usual with any new building project, things didn’t go to plan.

“The first four or five weeks we really got to know the campus; starting to set up the classrooms as much as we could while waiting on the final equipment and furniture to arrive.” Ron remembers with a smile.

“It was all hands-on deck!” Janelle adds, “There was no one to run the main office in the beginning so I spent two weeks working it before I could start my own job when we found someone to fill the role.”

Employed initially as store persons, organising and caring for the vast array of trade equipment, Ron and Janelle, along with the rest of the foundational staff, were fast friends, and to this day many still catch up with one another.

“It was all thrown together and because we had such a short timeline to get everything ready, we just got in and did what we could.” Ron adds. “The pressure definitely bonded us!”

Ron, who retired at the start of 2021, remembers the tradition of the staff contributing to a farewell gift for people who were moving on, “As the years went on the budget got significantly lower! But me and Nellie,” Ron warmly looks toward his friend Janelle, “we always kept up with it. We knew we’d be the ones to close the door when we left.”

“Now it’s just me! I guess I’ll have to buy my own present!” Janelle laughs.

Speaking with Janelle and Ron, you can’t miss what’s been a friendship that’s lead to a legacy of infectious community that still runs through the campus at Kingaroy. And when asked why they both stuck around for so long, their answers are the same.

“When you make lifelong friends like that, it makes coming to work easy. And couple that with a job you love at a place you love; it makes the idea of leaving hard.” Janelle says and Ron nods in agreement.

Ron and Janelle’s easy friendship lead to several innovations in the early days.

“We had to revolutionise a bit! We made shadow boards and other tools for keeping stock that were adopted right across TAFE Queensland because they were so helpful for productivity and keeping track.” Ron says.

“There was only two of us looking after eight stores – carpentry, electrical, automotive, welding...” Janelle lists off. “We had to create a system that would work across the board.”

Janelle, now the only original staff member still working at the TAFE Queensland Kingaroy campus, has continued as a Jill-of-all-trades, “I do a bit of everything now. I do the grounds, cleaning, paperwork. Whatever needs to be done and whatever no one else wants to do.”

Janelle is a well-loved presence right across the TAFE Queensland South West/Burnett regions, “I go to Dalby once a week, to do maintenance and grounds over there, and Cherbourg on and off. It’s a fair bit of driving!”

“The students and teachers love her. She’s always up for a chat and a laugh.” Ron adds. “I always used to say to the young teachers, ‘you need to get Nellie on side.’ She can move mountains for you.”

After a few years working in the trade stores, Ron took up the call to become a teacher.

He expands on all the driving and travel necessary in rural education settings. “You’re going back and forth to three, four different campuses, which can become a bit of a chore because it’s the same roads over and over and hours of driving, but I wouldn’t change it for a thing. Teaching has been one of the highlights of my life.”

He continues, “It’s rewarding when you run into a student and you see this young person that came here extremely shy and struggled belonging and you supported them and now, they’ve gone off and they’re working, married, got three kids and a mortgage and a new home.”

“That’s what it’s about, making their lives better and doing everything you can to help people become the best they can be. Nellie and I have both gotten to do that. It’s why we stuck around.”

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life to retire.” Ron continues. “At first, I regretted it because I missed teaching so much. The day I walked out of here and Monday morning came I thought, ‘what do I do now?’”

Janelle reflects on the day she’ll decide to retire. “I don’t know how I’ll feel. Probably sad. Really sad. It’s going to be such a tough thing to step away from everything I’ve known for so long. This job has been half my life. It’s home.”

Gratefully, Ron and Janelle find solace in what will continue long after they both retire: their friendship.

“I’ve found a brother here,” Janelle says. “If anything happens in my life, I know I can ring Ron at any time, and he’d be there for me.”