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The School Custodian

November 20, 2010

Do you remember the custodian at your high school or junior high or elementary school? I remember my schools custodians by name, Jenny and Paul at my elementary school, Porter at my Jr high/high school. They were strong silent figures full of wisdom and skill. Intently standing in the shadows, watching the drama of the day. On the ready to clean up a spilled lunch tray, unplug a toilet, troubleshoot or fix what needed to be done. Occasionally they would be called upon to help a student who was on crutches or sick by carrying them to the bus. Thoughtlessly, these people gave of themselves, asking for little recognition in return.

My elementary school principle, Mr. Barnett, always featured our custodians in every school assembly. He saw their role as essential to the schools very existence and reminded us this at every chance he had. When Paul retired, handing over his “office” to Jenny, Mr. Barnett made sure we had an assembly to thank him. And thank him we did, I remember the teaching staff purchased him one of those fancy Lay-Z-Boy recliners…it was one of the first times I had ever seen a grown man cry.

I once heard a media outlet say that America can be described as the “East Coast” the “West Coast” and “everything else”.  Since we are the Midwest, and not East or West, I assume we are the “everything else”.  Quietly the Midwest stands in the shadows.

Something inside of my head clicked.

The Midwest is the school custodian of the High School of America.

Seriously, read on, I’ve not lost my marbles (yet).

Lets think about our regional role in this nation. We help make sure the lights come on, we help make sure the cars have gas, we help make sure the necessary products that make our nation function arrive to their destination. We help clean up the mess when someone spills the milk (or oil or chemicals).  When someone needs a hand, we reach out with our compassion and strong backs to assist where we can. Our skills and intelligent are telegraphed through the quiet work we do. We lean on our mops watching the drama of the day.

One of the rules of thumb I have learned to live by in life, and my wife and family lives by this too, is that, no matter where you worked or were schooled, you should get to know the maintenance staff and custodians first.  If you need something done, turn to those wise, silent individuals for assistance, not the administration or the leadership. Quite simply, those with the dirtiest jobs, get the work done.

The Midwest, the custodians of the country…it may seem like an insult, but to see the tears of joy at the culmination of a life time of good and meaningful work, much like the retiring custodian from school, makes it worth the struggle.


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