Nevils Elementary School has been under the watchful gaze of Joann Rawls for the past 22 years. Rawls was hired in 1987 as the second custodian for the school by then principal Charles Stokes, and became head custodian two years later.
Rawls was born in Bulloch County, but once she married Willie Rawls moved to Pembroke. The Rawls have three girls: Ann Marie Johnson, Join Shavers and Asha Rawls. Their son Chris passed on several years ago. She has a younger brother, Harry McCollum, who also lives in Pembroke.
Rawls husband, Willie, is the pastor of the Holy Divine Trinity Temple Holiness Church in Pembroke.
Rawls starting working at the Pembroke Post Office at a young age, and even took on a second job at the “Tech X” outside of Hinesville, working as a dishwasher for three years.
After 27 years with the post office, she took on the job at Nevils Elementary, where she has been ever since. The new school, now open for three years, has many more rooms. Rawls says what she like most about the new school is the nicer cleaning equipment, not to mention special storage areas for that equipment.
A self-described neat-freak, Rawls loves the new orderliness. On top of that, she said, she has an office of her own. Her crew consists of veterans Dot Mikell and Priscilla Jones, and two newcomers, Shakevia Sparrow and Jasmine Sandifer.
Nevils Principal Julie Blackmar said about Rawls:
“She is the kindest person you'll ever meet. She takes a real pride in the work she and her crew do here. As a matter of fact, one day Superintendent Tom Bigwood of the Metter Schools came to Nevils to look at the new school.”
Blackmar continued, “He was so impressed with how clean the school was he sent all of his head custodians over to the school to meet with Miss Rawls. Their purpose: find out how she managed to keep the school so clean with what little she had to work with!”
Rawls said simply: “I like to clean. I was cleaning when I was 6 years old as my momma was a dry-cleaner and we kept things real neat, and I've been doing it ever since. Cleanliness is really next to Godliness.”
Rawls loves the children at the school. In fact, Rawls also works at the Nevils United Methodist Church watching the young children there (most of whom attend Nevils Elementary) when the church is holding a special event.
Rawls admits it hasn't always been smooth sailing, but shares her recipe for success: “Whenever there seems to be in trouble, I keep my mouth shut, be quiet and take it, and then later come back and explain myself.”