When our students return to school next Wednesday, there will be a lot of joy in their hearts and smiles on their faces for it will have been a little more than six months since they were last on campus.
No doubt they will be happy to, once again, see their classmates and friends, be anxious to say hello to former teachers, be eager to meet new transfers and faculty hires, as well as say hello to their new principal, Mrs. Tricia Weis '83.
Amidst this euphoria, it might take a few days before the children realize that a familiar face is no longer part of our school family. Longtime custodian, Rich Row, who began his 41st year with our parish on July 1 is retiring tomorrow, Friday, August 14.
Since 1980, Rich was as an important part of our school's success as anyone. He, and other members of our maintenance staff, did the grunt work. Their responsibilities included delivering books, mowing lawns, setting up rooms in preparation of meetings and gatherings, painting classrooms, sweeping and mopping floors, shoveling snow, raking leaves, cleaning up after students have gotten sick, unplugging toilets,wiping down lunch tables, emptying garbage, assisting with security, directing traffic flow, as well as a myriad of other chores.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been here that long,” noted Rich, who underwent surgery for the removal of a cancerous kidney back in November and who will celebrate one year of being smoke free on September 1.
“My health is good,” he was quick to point out, “but with the coronavirus continuing to be so prevalent, my wife (Bethany) and I decided this was the perfect time to transition to the next phase of my life.”
Rich and his spouse share two children, four grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. He hopes his new lifestyle will afford him more time with them as well as provide additional opportunities for hunting and fishing.
“He is the classic case of the bark being worse than the bite,” noted former principal Frank Glowaty. “He might be overheard mumbling about a task, but Rich had a heart of gold and couldn’t refuse a teacher’s request for assistance, even if they hadn’t always filled out a work order in a timely manner. You could always count on him.”
Although not prone to a lavish lifestyle, one might be surprised to learn of one of the highlights of Rich and Bethany’s social calendar, namely an annual trip to Chicago each winter to attend the Lyric Opera. “At first I felt like a fish out of water in such an environment, but then I began to look forward to it,” added Rich.
One thing he won’t look forward to, however, is being on-call during the winter for potential snow removal. “When you go to bed knowing snow is in the forecast, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep because you know the phone might ring at 4:00 am in the morning and you’d have to help get the grounds ready for Mass and school,” recalls Row.
Doing custodial work is similar to that of a sports official. If each does their job well, nobody notices. But if you slip up, everyone will let you know about it.
Nonetheless, Rich leaves with many fond memories. “I’ve enjoyed friendships with five pastors dating back to Fr. Jim Lennon,” he said, and there are also have a lot of teachers, students, parents, and fellow employees whom he considers friends.
Never was the impact he had on our school more evident than last December when the Student Council named him the recipient of their annual Coin War fundraiser to help offset his medical bills.
“I never knew people cared that much about me,” he said with a tear in his eye.
They cared about you, Rich, because they knew you cared about them as well as creating a clean and safe school environment.