School marks custodian’s years of service
April 29, 2005
In a surprise worthy of a dear friend and celebration fit for a king, Sierra House Elementary celebrated 30 years of service by custodian Bobby Jones with pale blue work shirts and red hats.
The operation began at 10:10 a.m. Friday when administrative assistant Cindy Farmer announced to the school that Jones had left with fellow custodian Ken Gerrard for what he thought was a meeting on the school’s upcoming summer modernization.
With only 35 minutes to prepare, 56 pale blue work shirts, Bobby’s customary clothing (along with blue jeans and a red hat embroidered with the word “Boss”), were distributed to staff members, aides and parent volunteers. Farmer matched names with correlating shirt sizes from a list on the front counter.
“We can sell this on eBay,” joked Madonna Smith, president of the school’s parent-teacher association, about the information.
Principal Jim Watson set up the microphone, a task typically reserved for Jones, while yellow, red and other colorful handmade signs from appreciative students lined the multi-purpose room’s stage.
“I can’t wait to see his face. He’ll be so shocked,” said Jeri Jones, Bobby’s wife, through sign language interpreter Holly Greenough.
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Bobby himself has been hard of hearing since birth.
Students filed into the room starting at 10:35 a.m., forming crude rows when they sat, and obliterated a few decibel levels when 634 youths yelled practice cheers three times.
Guest of honor arrives
At 10:45 a.m., a side door opened into the hushed auditorium. For a few seconds no one entered, then Jones walked in to a hail of screams. Flustered, he took a few steps back outside before he entered, grinning.
Like a dignitary returning to a hometown, the cheers continued as Bobby hugged his wife, mother, brother and anyone else nearby. Cameras flashed. Then he took the stage after a couple renditions of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Watson spoke first, followed by Gerrard, who gave him a framed song, and teacher Jodi Dayberry, who gave him a tackle box and fishing trip from the staff.
Although he uses hearing aids, Bobby often looked to Greenough for interpretation. Thirty years ago, when Bobby began working for Sierra House, production of the first “Star Wars” film was underway, Jimmy Carter was president while former aides to President Richard Nixon were being sentenced to prison for their involvement in the Watergate scandal and NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was born.
During most of the celebration Bobby sat on a decorated toilet, similar to the plain ones he cleans in what his mother, Mavis, deemed the “worst job he has.”
Bobby, who arrives at school at 6:30 a.m., also arranges the lunch tables, empties trash cans, unlocks the school and hears the plea “Bobbbbyyy” from staff members who don’t want to deal with a student’s discharge of vomit.
In what can be a thankless job, Bobby received the ultimate sign of gratitude Friday. At the end of the celebration, students chanted “Bobby” over and over and over as if yearning for an encore by the band U2. They also held up their hands in the sign for love.
School board members Barbara Bannar and Doug Forte, former principal of Sierra House, were present. So was Mark Romagnolo, another past principal of Sierra House, who gave Bobby a hug upon sight. District Facilities Director Steve Morales was also in the crowd.
Dayberry said Jeri, Bobby’s wife, told her she felt the vibrations from the chants. Bobby admitted it was a “big surprise” for the job he does.
“It keeps me busy all the time,” he said.
– E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com