The elite hand: Meet Chris Cherry

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Every month I will be profiling an extraordinary person who lives in our town. If you know someone who is walking to the beat of their own drum, doing selfless and inspiring things or living a life that isn’t ordinary, I want to hear about it. Email me at [email protected]

Chris Cherry has never met a kid he didn’t like.

“Kids are amazing,” he says. “Even the bad ones. And usually they are the ones who just need a little bit of guidance.”

The 58-year-old head custodian at Huntsville Public School is a kindred spirit. There’s a gentleness to him and it’s detectable in his eyes and in the way he carries himself. He’s not worn down by the job or doing it just because he has to. There isn’t one thing he doesn’t love about what he does and the kids, well, they are the reason for that. They give meaning to each and every day he spends working at the school.

When he was a young boy, a custodian at the school he went to always went out of his way to talk to Chris. Now, he’s returning that kindness to the kids at Huntsville Public School.

There’s a stigma attached to custodial workers; Chris is well aware. But he wants to set the record straight.

“People think a custodian is a floor sweeper and that’s all. That’s 10 per cent of the job. As the lead hand I deal with a lot of things. Rentals, I put in work orders and I deal with the contractors that are hired. Yes, I do some cleaning. I got to keep up with the whole fire and safety aspect as well. Sometimes I have to do minor repairs. Generally if I can fix it I’m going to. If it’s a much bigger scale, then we need hired help.”

You’ve got to have a mechanical aptitude to do the job and do it well, says Chris. Being versatile in your skillset is obviously an asset too. You also have to be willing to learn. After all, you never know when there might be a break in a water line or an electrical problem. If there’s a maintenance job that requires him to call someone in, he usually ends up helping them. But most of all, in order to be a school custodian, you better love kids. Or the job isn’t for you.

To be honest, the reason I got into this line of work is a bit selfish. If you think about your public school days you probably remember having a favourite principal or teacher. I had a favourite custodian. He helped me out when I was in Grade 6. He was the guy I could vent to and talk to so I moved back here I thought why not hand that back?

The school secretary will vouch for Chris’s caring nature and so will the principal, Todd Truax. Chris goes above and beyond the requirements of his job on a daily basis. He will do anything for anyone. Like last week when Chris went out of his way to help two Grade 8 students learn the ropes of health and safety in the workplace. For two days the boys trained under him while he devised mock tests and inspections. And the students won the competition.

Jacob Duncan (left) and Jacob Patterson were lucky to win a safety contest after studying with school custodian Chris Cherry.

And that’s just one example of Chris’s dedication to the kids. He does his best to make an appearance at almost all the special events held at the school. That’s an easy way he can show his support for a school he views as being one of the best in town.

Plain and simple, Chris just gets kids. He is not an expert in any way. He just has a natural ability to get down to their level.

If a student does something good but the job isn’t quite good enough you need to talk to them about it. Maybe give them a little confidence boost. A lot of times kids want to do something good and get acknowledged for it.

And it’s effortless on Chris’s part to make students feel valued. Now that he’s done his job helping to raise three of his own boys, he’s enjoying this second chance to be around kids.

His favourite place in the whole school! The stairway going up to the second floor has a picture perfect view of the playground.

Prior to his job at Huntsville Public School, Chris spent five years as a custodian at the high school where he continues to maintain a friendly relationship with some of the students. Even the teenagers seem to think Chris is pretty awesome. It’s not uncommon for a few of them to show up at the school with a coffee for their favourite custodian. It’s little things like that that can get Chris all choked up.

“It kind of blows me away,” he says. “I love it when the parents and kids recognize that you care. It makes my whole day. I lowered a bunch of coat racks for the kindergarten kids so they could reach them. When I came through hall, that was the first time they had seen the racks and they were all thanking me. It was overwhelming. It’s a politically correct world so you just stand there with your hands up. But it makes it the whole thing worthwhile.”

It’s that look of excitement and gratitude on a child’s face when Chris is able to retrieve a toy that’s been flushed down the toilet or one that’s been stuck in a sink drain for a few days. Or it’s the sheer joy that overcomes a little girl when he lets her know that he will get her favourite stuffy that was accidentally thrown over the fence. That is what makes his job the best. That’s the ultimate. And the kids are always grateful that Chris is there to save the day.

Chris says that he would not be able to do his job without the help from David Verch and Michelle Summerville. Those two are his reliable helping hands and he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without them.

(A big thanks to Huntsville Public School secretary Jackie Parkin and principal Todd Truax who promptly called me back to suggest Chris Cherry as this month’s extraordinary person. )

Huntsville Public School principal Todd Truax has nothing but good things to say about Chris Cherry. He will do anything for anyone, and that level of kindness is hard to find.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Sharon Stahls on

    Thank you Chris from all the schools you have worked at in TLDSB. You are one of a kind. Your work ethic admired by all and you are an excellent role model for staff & students. Keep up the fine effort my friend.
    Retired Proud Principal of HPS
    Sharon Stahls

  2. Yes. Custodians usually are also usually Stationary Engineers and deal with the heating system. Sometimes new school to not have coal fired boilers but there is still a boiler that needs looked after. Also there is setting up and cleaning tables for lunch, setting chairs for assemblies etc. Also cleaning after sick children.

  3. Donald McKenzie on

    I had the honour of serving with Chris in the army. He is a fine citizen and comrade.

    Well done, Chris, keep up the good work.

    • Thank you Chris for last year putting sand in the sandbox for Leland. Also taking time out of your busy day to say hi buddy to him. you’re amazing at your job. Thanks again
      Lori Sammons And Leland Roberts

      You Rock

  4. I served with Chris in the Army Reserves way back in the 1980s. Proud to have served with him and call him a friend. Learning of his caring attitude towards his career and the kids in his school doesn’t surprise me. He is one of the few people I would want standing beside me in any situation.
    Well done Chris.

  5. I am sure he is one in a million and the school is very lucky to have him. However, I’m going to say congratulations to the young men who won the safety award. One just happens to be my grandson.
    Great kids.
    Nana Duncan

  6. Chris D. Cherry on

    I would just like to thank you all for your kind words. To be honest I have been humbled by the response from both the public, and the amazing staff at our school. I must tell you though that is all of our staff, the teachers, the support staff, and the admin that makes this school more like a second family. I have never seen so much caring , love, and devotion in one place… They make it so easy to want to help them. They have done so much for me, shown me so much respect, and trust. They all have both my deepest respect and warmest thoughts …

  7. Kathy Patterson on

    Such well deserved acknowledgement for Chris and the many other dedicated custodians working in our local schools. When reading about Chris I was reminded of the contributions of the custodians I have had the pleasure of working with in the past – such an important part of the school team. Thanks to Chris and all custodians for the work they do and for so often going above and beyond!

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