Hanging up the mop: Garfield School custodian Bob Crane was celebrated by the school Friday. He'll retire after 40 years at the school.Courtesy Garfield School

Bob Crane, who is putting away his mop after 40 years as custodian, received a rousing sendoff from Garfield School. Bob found it a bit overwhelming. The gym was filled with family members he wasn’t expecting, dozens of district retirees and the excited voices of students paying him tribute.

Maria Carini led her choir through “We Appreciate You,” as Bob was led to a couch where his wife Elaine, son Bryant and daughter Allie were sitting. “You made us so happy with the things you say and do,” the students sang, raising their arms at the end to shout, “You, you you!”

An equally spirited poem was composed and read by Terry Wawzenek. In rhyming verse, Terry described Bob’s many duties – including making sure classrooms weren’t too hot or cold. Andrea Connelly continued this theme by reading “The Custodian from the Black Lagoon” to her delighted kindergartners. Fester Smudge, though, used a fire-breathing dragon to heat his school.

This was followed by “Mr. Crane’s Farewell” video, containing personal messages from the students. They thanked him for cleaning the bathrooms and refilling the soap. They saluted him as the “Best Cleaner in the Universe” and wished him well in his retirement. One said that he’ll now be able to do what he wants, be with his family and not have to clean up messes.

Singing resumed with the rocking “See You Later Alligator” and the subdued “The Time We Had Together” which the choir sang with hands folded. After singing “Happy Retirement” the students lined up and placed presents and cards in a green and gold trash can. Among the gifts Bob received from staff were a free round of golf and a new club.

After enjoying a buffet of brats, hot dogs and salads prepared by the staff, the retirees went off to read to students. Bob made the rounds to each class. He gave out special yellow and green cookies baked in the shape of a hand. They had “High 5 Mr. C” written on them.

Bob’s custodial career reflects the communal spirit of Forest Park. He grew up in town and started cleaning the schools as a summer helper when he was 16. He was only 18 when his dad passed away on Father’s Day. Two years later, Bob’s mom died. Principal Ed Phillips, who became Bob’s mentor, hired the 20 year-old to replace a retired custodian.

Bob had been named MVP and All-Conference at Proviso East, where he anchored third base for four years. At Triton, his baseball team twice won the state championship. Bob went on to an illustrious career in 16-inch softball. Mr. C was known as “The Machine,” cranking line drives to the outfield. His team once beat the mighty Bobcats and took second at the No Gloves tournament.

It was after a softball game that Bob met Elaine at the Pines Restaurant. They’ve been married 36 years. She’ll soon be joining him in retirement from her teaching career. They plan to travel to Alabama to see their daughter Tracie and visit Hawaii and San Francisco.

Golf is Bob’s favorite hobby but he also continues to play basketball at Grant-White on Saturday mornings. He’s been doing it for 35 years and some of the players are in their 50’s and 60’s.

Bob said he enjoyed his job, because he got to meet kids and become familiar with their families. After his party, though, there was a reminder of what Bob won’t miss. An announcement came over the PA. “Clean-up needed in Junior Kindergarten.”

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

One reply on “We appreciate you, Bob Crane”