The lead custodian at Tahoe Valley Elementary School sat in his windowless office Wednesday, observing the array of student artwork taped across the walls.
The caretaker’s 6-foot-2-inch frame seemed almost too big for his tiny headquarters, a skinny janitor’s closet filled with chemicals and cleaning tools. He reached for one of the drawings; a pair of glasses sunk halfway down his nose.
“I don’t throw anything away these kids give me,” he said, showing off the artwork with a smile that parted a thick and graying beard. “It makes me kind of a hoarder.”
This year, Glen Gerrard, the school’s custodian for the past three years, is giving back to students by putting together a scholarship fund — in addition to keeping their facilities clean, of course.
Gerrard — or Mr. Glen, as staff and students affectionately call him — has already raised about $300 from selling mechanical pencils to students and his popular potato chip cookies to teachers. His hope, he said, is to offer a $500 scholarship to one boy and one girl.
“It’s a tough job,” Gerrard said. “You see these kids that have these problems and you want to help all of them.”
The idea came to him after he watched his oldest grandson, Chris, receive a scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club earlier this year.
“I don’t think he would have gone to college if he hadn’t got that scholarship,” he said.
After seeing the benefits first hand, Gerrard decided to start a scholarship of his own. So the 51-year-old custodian teamed up with his wife, Louise, and developed a fund over the summer.
So far, the feedback from parents and students has been extremely positive, Gerrard said.
“I think it takes them all off-guard that it was the custodian that actually put this thing together,” he said.
Gerrard, who has lived in Tahoe nearly all of his life, comes from a family of dedicated custodians. His grandfather was a custodian in Salt Lake City and his father was maintenance chief at Harvey’s in South Shore. His two older brothers, Ken and Randy, are retired custodians as well.
But the real irony, Gerrard said, is that he attended Tahoe Valley when he was in kindergarten. His kids and grandkids have also attended the school.
“It’s almost like an episode of Groundhog Day,” Gerrard said, “because it’s the same thing over and over again.”
Gerrard followed in his family’s footsteps because he loves working with kids, he said. And he treats them like his own.
“I let them know that I’m (their) friend,” he said. “If you do something that disrespects me, you’re disrespecting the school.”
At Tahoe Valley, Gerrard goes by many names. The most popular is Mr. Glen, but visitors may also hear him referred to as Santa or “a huggable Teddy bear” on any given day.
The light-hearted custodian might be the object of warmhearted nicknames because, according to staff, he goes above and beyond his typical janitorial duties.
Third-grade teacher Ali Kipke said the school is lucky to have him.
“Mr. Glen is a huggable Teddy bear,” she said, “and students can approach him for any need.”
Walking around Tahoe Valley Elementary, there’s no denying that Gerrard is a local celebrity. Kids shout his name when he walks into a room, then they rush to give him a hug.
Fourth-grader Jasmine Witcher, 9, is one of those students.
“He’s the nicest janitor in the world,” she said. “He’s nice and always helps people out.”