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Elva marks 50 years at Newcastle High but has no retirement plans


Most people don’t spend more than six years at high school, but Elva Keenan has vastly extended her stint at Newcastle High.

And, she has no plans to leave what has been her “home” for half a century.

The Islington resident is 76 and works for Ventia as a cleaner on the NSW Whole of Government Facilities Management Services contract.

To mark Seniors Week, Ventia is celebrating its older team members and their valuable contribution to its business and the community.

Elva began working at the high school as a cleaner when she was 26 – and has witnessed a lot of changes over the past 50 years.

Elva Keenan

When she started, it was an all-girls school, but it became co-ed in the mid ‘70s.

And, in 2021, student numbers have reached an all-time high of 1,200.

Elva even lived on the school grounds for about seven years in the late 90s.

So, what makes someone stay at the same place for 50 years?

Several reasons, according to Elva.

“There’s the satisfaction of keeping the kids safe and watching the new Year 7 students transform into young adults in Year 12,” she said.

“But, also being involved in a community, where I’ve seen tens of thousands of children and generations of families go through these gates.”

Some of Newcastle High School’s former students have gone on to become household names, like Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou, who became overnight sensations in 1994 while they were still pupils at the school.

“They were good kids,” Elva said.

“There was a lot of pride and excitement when they became famous.”

Like most people, Elva has had to adapt to her job changing with the arrival of the coronavirus.

“One of the challenges has been keeping the school up to the new cleanliness standards during COVID-19,” she explained.

Elva said she loves her job, so decided to keep working after she turned 65.

“Keeping my body and mind healthy by working, and having a routine and structure, has kept me in a place where I can continue to work and I feel a sense of belonging each day,” she added.

“I get asked all the time: ‘when are you going to retire?’

“Some days it looks so good, but I think I’ll hang in a bit longer.”

Ventia is looking for cleaners to service school and TAFE facilities across the Newcastle, Central Coast and Upper Hunter areas.

For further information and to apply, visit

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