Two friends and their commitment to La Habra
By Taylor Engle
La Habra Journal
Almost everyone who went to La Habra High School can recall the level of care that exudes from the staff. The school prides itself on catering to the community, and two of its hardest working members just served their last year on board.
Together, Mary Lou Dorado and Jeanne Simonian (known by faculty as “Sweet Mary Lou” and “Mean Jeanne”) served La Habra High School for over 77 years. These women have been there to witness teenagers go from students to adults to even faculty members and feel they have contributed to their students in their most formative years.
“When we run into [students] as adults in the community, we see the impact we had,” Dorado said.
Dorado, an LHHS alumni, served as a data systems technician, working with report cards, schedules, teacher rosters and student records.
Dorado fell into her position at La Habra High School while she was attending Fullerton College. She was initially supposed to be a part-time attendance counter, but the person she was covering for never came back, causing Dorado never to leave.
“I grew up there. Not only was I a student there, but…I wasn’t even 21 when I started. I got engaged, I got married, I had children, and now my granddaughter, all while I was employed there. So it’s been a big part of my life,” Dorado said.
Over her 45 years at La Habra High School, Dorado witnessed students live out their lives. “The kids that were the ‘troublemakers’ in their time come back and see me as the most dedicated parents to their kids. We’ve seen students dating, getting engaged, getting married, having children, and pursuing their careers,” Dorado said.
Simonian had an equally intimate experience at La Habra High School. She served as senior records, but “if you ask us what our title was, it’s your mother, your sister, your friend, your janitor, your nurse, or an open ear to listen when someone has a problem or an excitement,” Simonian said. “When I have something exciting happen to me, I want to share it with [Mary Lou] first, but not everyone has that.”
Simonian and Dorado met when Simonian began working at LHHS 32 years ago and have been close friends ever since. “She has a sister and I don’t, so I made her my sister,” Simonian said.
The two women first took their friendship outside of the office with Friday night football games. Every Friday, their families knew they were on their own because Simonian and Dorado would start selling tickets about 4 p.m. and wouldn’t be finished until 11 p.m. or midnight.
Their dedication to the school stems from their honest belief that there is something special about La Habra High School.
“When I first started working here, La Habra was known as a gang school,” Dorado said. “But the kids that were the ‘troublemakers’ or the ‘gang members’ one on one were the sweetest people, and I still connect with a lot of them. I still see them and for some of them, generation after generation comes to La Habra. They’re good kids.”
Simonian and Dorado continue to stick up for La Habra High even in retirement, making sure that the school gets as equal coverage in the community as Sonora. It’s the faculty and student pride that makes the school feel special to these women.
“Teachers give up their lunch times and stay after school. They have a real concern and passion for their job. They don’t just care about the book learning; they care about the students and the person and their growth,” Dorado said.
Simonian believes that it’s the dedication of the teachers that makes students want to strive and makes the rest of the faculty want to do a good job. “These are teachers whose hearts are to teach the kids. Their hearts are with the kids to care for them and to actually guide them,” Simonian said.
Among the long-lasting friendships and good memories, the job taught Dorado and Simonian more about their students than they would have imagined.
“I had a nice upbringing, but to see how many kids in high school come from such dysfunctional environments and just getting to school is a job…I didn’t even know that existed. Those are the kids that you want to make sure know they have support and are a valuable human being,” Dorado said.
“I think that’s what bonded us together so much,” Simonian added. “It wasn’t a job after a while; it was more than that. It was part of life.”
Although the friends are retired, their impact in the La Habra community is nowhere near finished. They continue to be recognized by parents, students, and faculty everywhere they go and are able to see their hard work in real life.
“I ran into a student at Sprouts the other day and she talked to me for about thirty minutes about how well she’s doing,” Simonian said with a wistful smile. “It’s always nice to see we had some kind of impact.”
For retirement, Simonian and Dorado plan to rekindle friendships with people they’ve bonded with throughout the years, enjoy the feeling of not being rushed, and spend a lot of time with Dorado’s (and Simonian’s honorary) new granddaughter.
“We’ll still be at those football games though,” Simonian said.
Dorado laughed in agreement. “And we’ll always stick up for La Habra!”