OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — For more than 50 years, esteemed Omaha North High School Principal Gene Haynes worked tirelessly to shape the minds of kids.
To honor his service, all were invited to a retirement celebration at Northwest High School Stadium.
There, he says, he took the lessons of his upbringing to the classroom.
"My father was a big guy and he had a sixth-grade education, and Mom had an eighth-grade education and they instilled in us a long time ago, 'You're gonna go to school,'" Haynes said. "Regardless of what happened, 'You're gonna go to school and be good.'"
Haynes built his life in Omaha after graduating from Rust College in Mississippi.
"My mom and dad had moved to Omaha and I had an opportunity to go to Miami, Florida, and I said I would go to Miami after I stayed in Omaha a year and saved some money, and I've been in Omaha ever since," Haynes said.
His students say his decision to stay in Omaha forever shaped their course.
"It inspired me to go into education. I'm going into education myself because we need more black educators and having my first principal in elementary school and having my second black principal in high school, I knew where I wanted to be, I wanted to be just like them," Omaha North graduate, Marlon Harrison said.
Shonna Dorsey, also an Omaha North graduate, traveled from South Dakota to honor Haynes.
"He inspired me by just encouraging me to always go for what I wanted to go for. He always did a great job of keeping kids out of the hallways and keeping kids out of trouble, even just having that constant, inspiring person around made a huge difference," Dorsey said.
"He always bring donuts every time for homeroom and I kind of gain a little weight because of that," Harrison said.
Haynes constantly prioritized his staff and students.
"I keep them on the front-burner of my to-do list — is my parents, my students and my staff," Haynes said.
His students and those closest to him returned the favor by showing up and simply saying "Thank you."
"I think he'll continue to be a big part of my life. When I think about the importance of investing and giving back to others because he instilled that in me as a high school student and it's showing up in my life, even today," Dorsey said.
Haynes tells 3 News Now he plans to spend his retirement traveling once the pandemic is over.