Among the hustle and bustle of Bowie High School, one person in the school has been a constant for years: Mary Nusser.
In May, Nusser will mark her 20th year volunteering with the school’s PTSO. Although Nusser, 56, doesn’t have biological children, the Bowie resident said working with students has made them part of her family all the same.
“It’s always somebody else’s child you’re hugging, but when you make progress with them, you can’t help but claim them yourself,” Nusser said.
Nusser is a 1973 graduate of the school and serves as the school’s PTSO treasurer. She became involved as her nieces and nephews made their way through the school and she found herself attending school events, she said.
Her involvement at the school even has gotten her husband, Jon Palks, involved as well; the 63-year-old has done everything from chaperone dances to hand out tickets for them.
“This means everything to her,” Palks said. “She’s really taken to assisting the kids who attend that school in any manner she can.”
The frequent change at the school as new students enter and graduate each year keeps her volunteering, Nusser said.
“My happy new year is August, greeting new people,” she said. “It’s always hopeful.”
Nusser, an outreach coordinator at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, which is attached to the school, often is at the school, interacting with teachers and students or representing the PTSO at school meetings, said Elaine Beal, president of the Bowie High School PTSO.
Josef Mensah, a 2006 graduate, remembers Nusser being a regular presence at the school.
“If she wasn’t volunteering at the annex [the building for the school’s freshmen] making sure students were getting to class, she was helping out with school plays,” he said. “She was there even with little things like selling tickets.”
After Mensah graduated, Nusser remained a part of his life, giving him a job at the performing arts center while he attended the University of Maryland, College Park, from 2006 to 2010. Even after leaving to attend law school at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Mensah said, he remained in contact with Nusser.
“She’s not only knowledgeable about Bowie High School, but the school system, the city and the state,” Beal said. “She’s at the school on virtually a daily basis. She’s willing to help with pretty much anything. We have often thought we would be quite lost without her.”
Longevity with a PTSO isn’t common; members tend to stay only a few years until their child moves on, school organization leaders said. Beal said she has been involved in PTO and PTSO for about 15 years, but that time has been spread across three schools as her children grew up.
Nusser’s role at the school goes beyond managing the group’s budget, Beal said.
On Jan. 15, Nusser officiated a talk with representatives from the county’s state’s attorney office on schools, guns and gun safety. She volunteers annually to sell tickets to the school’s after-prom party, an alcohol- and drug-free event the PTSO sponsors, Nusser said.
“Because she doesn’t have children, she adopts the children at Bowie High School,” said Joseph Tidwell, a security officer who has worked at the high school since 1993. “Without her there, it would almost be like losing the mother of the school.”