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Kassel Retiring as a ‘Legend’
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2021-06-30

            In a month, when Sandy Kassel ends her tenure as business administrator for the Upper Perkiomen School District, Andrea Farina becomes the unofficial keeper of all institutional knowledge. For questions that she can't answer, Farina won't hesitate to call Kassel.

            "Sandy says she's always going to be there," said Farina, the district's assistant superintendent, who will become its longest tenured administrator when the new school year starts. "I know it's true."

            On Aug. 1, Kassel will start her retirement following a 38-year career as an administrator and school board secretary in the district. Beginning Thursday, she will cede her position as board secretary to Dan Direso, her assistant and successor. Direso will also be elevated to business administrator for a month before taking over.

            "What I'll miss most is the work," said Kassel, who joined the district a few months before the start of the 1983-84 school year. "I like dealing with spreadsheets and solving difficult problems."

            According to multiple administrators, Kassel has made a significant impact in all facets of the district during her tenure, which spanned 11 superintendents and 53 school board members. Direso, who will become the district's third business administrator, says no one knows more about its inner workings.

            "Sandy is a legend in every possible way," said Farina, who is entering her seventh year in the district. "Few people in this profession truly embody the spirit and the passion of the work they do, and the place where they do it. She does."

            Kassel played a significant role in the financing, construction and renovation of each of the district's schools. She had a hand in the hiring of every single administrator and significant staff member, according to Farina.  "I can't imagine Upper Perkiomen without her," said the administrator, who joined the district in April of 2015 as its director of pupil services. "She's been the only consistency in my time here."

            Kassel's skills and dedication as a financial manager set the district up for success moving forward, according to Superintendent Allyn Roche. He said her car usually remained in the Education Center parking lot past 11 p.m. during the week.

            Kassel routinely put in 12 hour days, according to Direso. He said she would allow herself one day of respite over the weekend before getting to work at home.  "Sandy's drive is incredible," said Direso, a CPA who joined the district as Kassel's assistant in October of 2016. "She prides herself in doing things right."

            According to Kassel, her parents, along with supervisors during her formative years in school financing, imbued in her the urge to be as precise as possible. She described her proclivity to work 16 hours per day during especially busy periods as her choice.  "I believe that's the way it needs to be," said Kassel, who raised five children. "I need to be sure I am as accurate as possible. There's not a lot of room for error."

            She described her current central office team – which includes Administrative Assistant Diane Hipszer (who has worked for Kassel since 1999), payroll specialist Renee Mauer (2002), tax clerk Rene Clyde (2002), Barbara Harding, in charge of accounts payable (1989); food services Director Paula Germinario (2018), transportation Coordinator Jenn Malone (2019), assistants Christine Vogel (2014) and Cookie McGown (2021), and Direso – as a family who works as hard as she does. Direso said Kassel solicits as much information as possible from the members before acting decisively, but "is not afraid to be the bad guy."

            During her initial interview in the district during the spring of 1983, Kassel impressed three administrators with her thoroughness and attention to detail during an hour-long meeting at the former agricultural building at the site of the 4th & 5th Grade Center in East Greenville, according to H. George Bonekemper, one of the superintendents who worked with her.

            "Sandy was well qualified," said Bonekemper, then the district's director of pupil services who retired in 1997 as the acting superintendent. "She knew the job and came highly recommended."

            The trio, which included Assistant Superintendent Nelson Weber and outgoing Business Administrator Paul Gebert, determined her to be the best candidate. Bonekemper said they highly recommended her to Superintendent Thomas Persing.

            The superintendent offered the job to Kassel during a subsequent meeting. However, she initially rejected it, unsure about leaving a similar position in the Southern Lehigh School District just one year after purchasing her current home.

            Rather than rescind the offer, Persing told the candidate to "think about it," Kassel recalled. A few weeks later, at a conference of school business administrators, numerous attendees congratulated Kassel on the new position. Soon after that, she accepted the job and started July 1, 1983.  "I guess the administrators at Upper Perkiomen had their ways to convince me," said Kassel, whose duties initially included collecting EITC taxes from seven municipalities.

            During her years in the district, her responsibilities far exceeded finance. Kassel helped oversee transportation in the district and served as the lead negotiator on the most recent contract with the Upper Perkiomen Education Association. She has also represented the district in numerous municipal meetings on multiple issues.

            On the first day of her final year in the district, she delivered coffee and donuts to Hereford and Marlborough elementaries on the first day of school. Kassel also filled a morning shift directing traffic in front of the new middle school on Montgomery Avenue. In May, she volunteered at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the school, according to Roche.

            "Sandy has a heart of gold," the current superintendent said. "She really cares about people. She's got real compassion and treats everyone with respect. That's why everyone wants to work with her."

            Over the years, Kassel has a few opportunities to move to another district. Following a brief investigation into each offer, she decided not to leave.   "There were always things to accomplish here," Kassel said. "There's something special about this community. Everyone here is vested in making it better."

            Direso described her career as the epitome of what public service is supposed to be. He described Kassel's dedication as the reason for her acceptance by the community.  

            Administrators come and go. Sandy came and never went," said Peg Pennepacker, a member of the Upper Perkiomen School Board and a 1976 graduate of the district who met Kassel while working for the district during the summer of 1983 after graduating from Lock Haven State College. "She has been the connective tissue of the district for several years. She knows all the nooks and crannies. You need to have people like that in administration."


 

 

 

 

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