Tidbits from the past …

[From The Stark County News, Toulon, Illinois, Wednesday, September 8, 1937, pp. 1 & 6]

Begins 32nd Year as School Janitor; Peels
Countless Apples, Oranges, For Youngsters

Filling an important though inconspicuous place in the local school system is Arthur Bennett, 59-year-old Toulon resident, who is beginning his 32nd year as Janitor of Toulon Grade School building.
Mr. Bennett began his duties as janitor 31 years ago during the principalship of the late Professor Chapman. At that time the building housed both the high school and the grade school—the four upper rooms accommodating the high school and the four lower rooms the grade school, with two grades being in each room.

“Man with a thousand Jobs” is a title which might best describe the school janitor. During his 31 years of service, he probably has been called upon to perform a bigger variety of duties in addition to his regular routine than any other public worker.

Peeling and dividing apples, oranges, candy bars, “all-day suckers,” etc., during the morning and afternoon recess periods, assisting little tots night and morning in putting on or removing overshoes and wraps, and scores of other jobs—all of these have been cheerfully performed five days each week and nine months in each year, for they have always been a part of the manifold duties of the school janitor.

Washes Acres of Blackboards.

Imagine, if you can, ringing the grade school bell steadily for 200 days and nights—dusting several carloads of erasers—pushing a lawn-mower over enough blue grass to make a fair-sized cattle ranch in Texas—washing and cleaning thousands of square feet of blackboard and window surface–sweeping and oiling a few square miles of floors—shoveling a trainload of coal and carrying out tons of ashes! While this may seem to approach the heights of the ridiculous—just stop and figure it all out.

The large bell on top of the school building which summons the students each school day is rung twice each morning and twice each afternoon before school sessions commence. In addition, the bell is tolled at the close of the morning and afternoon recess periods.

Approximately five minutes of the Janitor’s time each day is devoted to pulling the bell rope.

Various Boards of Education of the local school have kept abreast of the times and have added to the janitor’s equipment which makes his work considerably easier. For instance, a new stoker was recently installed which lessens his work during the winter season. A power lawn-mower also was recently purchased which greatly facilitates mowing the grass on the large campus. Numerous other improvements and additions of equipment have been made from time to time.

Starts Fire Drills.

Hundreds of children have thrilled to the sound of the large fire gong which is sounded by the janitor for fire drills and in case of fire. Fire drills are usually held without warning to the pupils and for many years it has been the duty of a couple of boys in the upper rooms or some of the teachers to rush to the fire escapes on the north and south sides of the building to unfasten the large glass doors. Out of these doors in well-drilled formation would march the outwardly calm but inwardly excited pupils.

Came a morning a number of years ago when the three staccato gong beats came as a surprise not only to the pupils but to the teachers as well. This was during the principalship of Miss Selma Larson, of Cambridge. A strong east wind had carried chimney sparks into the large, wooden belfry and although the flames did not reach into the building proper, the large ornamental belfry was burned so badly that it was removed and was never rebuilt. This is the only time that the building has been afire during Mr. Bennett’s 31 years as janitor of the school.

Supervises Noon Hour.

In recent years, a member of the faculty has been assisting in supervisory work during the noon hour, this formerly being one of the janitor’s innumerable jobs. And this was no small job in former years when students from the country and others living in the outer edges of the city congregated in the basement to eat their lunches. On rainy days or during the winter months, the basement “dining room” would become a veritable bedlam until the janitor made his appearance through a door in the northeast corner of the room, whereupon order was quickly restored.

Is Police On Hallowe’en.

Another “extra” chore placed upon the janitor comes at Hallowe’en time—a season when mischievous boys find great delight in playing pranks on the school premises. An old favorite prank which has been attempted almost each year and which has been successfully carried out on several occasions is the ringing of the school bell in the dead of night. This was usually accomplished by attaching to the bell or bell rope a heavy cord which was skillfully strung across the school-yard to neighboring property where the small group of pranksters would assemble to “toll the bell.”

One Hallowe’en night a good many years ago, Mr. Bennett’s suspicions of an impending joke were aroused when one of his own sons entertained one of his young friends at supper. While the two were at the table, Mr. Bennett made an investigation about the school premises and discovered a long string of binder twine attached to the school bell. After detaching the cord from the bell and fastening it to the corner of the old belfry, the janitor trailed the course of the string across the schoolyard to nearby property. Hiding himself near the end of the string, the janitor awaited the outcome of his own little Hallowe’en joke. The boys assembled to ring the bell but their first jerks on the string failed to produce the familiar peal of the bell. A more lusty tug on the twine caused it to snap in two and the boys’ exclamations of dismay, while not a part of this story, caused the janitor to chuckle aloud.

Understands Children.

Mr. Bennett’s long period of service to the school district speaks for the manner in which he has discharged his duties. Some janitors of schools may have encountered difficulties in their daily contact with students but such has not been the case of Mr. Bennett. He thoroughly understands youngsters, probably even better than some teachers, and his consideration of their countless requests and his willingness to assist them have not only made his work easier and more pleasant, but have also made him a great many friendships.

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