School custodian gets surprise send-off

STEUBEN — Before classes ended last Friday, John Brooks made his final rounds at Ella Lewis School. Intent on his work, the custodian busily tidied and restocked already spotless bathrooms ahead of students being released for spring break.

Pushing his wheeled metal cart, he carried out other tasks along the gleaming hallways. Pausing in the gym, where students were to be recognized for academic achievement, the maintenance man leaned against his workshop’s doorway to listen. But all eyes turned to him. 

“I have to admit that I have been somewhat dishonest about our school-wide assembly today,” Ella Lewis School Principal Jackson Green said, addressing Brooks, who will take over on April 26 as Regional School Unit 24’s new supervisor of maintenance for its five schools. “Today is not a school-wide assembly to recognize our amazing student achievement or growth. Today is not about recognizing our improved attendance rate, of which I am very proud. Today is all about recognizing a man who has dedicated his life and career to both our school, our school district, as well as the town of Steuben. Today is about recognizing a man who hasn’t taken a sick day in over two years!” 

Initially planned for outdoors, overcast skies and high winds kept the school’s tribute to the departing Brooks indoors. Younger children, each clutching a purple paper heart, and staff sat spaced apart in the gym. Due to COVID-19, the older students and their teachers attended via Zoom from their classrooms. Guests included RSU 24’s Director of Operations Janet Jordan and Brooks’s wife, Angela, who was smuggled into the school earlier unbeknownst to him. 

As custodian, Brooks has worked at Ella Lewis for five years. But his impeccable care of the school and its grounds was not the only reason for honoring him. Having grown up in Steuben, he attended Ella Lewis himself and he serves as its athletic director, coaching baseball and softball, too. He also served as firefighter with the Steuben Volunteer Fire Department for 20 years. His community, whether it is the school or Fire Department, is a point of pride that he has poured his energy and love into.  

“‘Mr. John’ or “‘Johnnie’,” as everyone calls him, is simply a staple of Ella Lewis and our community. When people in the community think of Ella Lewis, I have little doubt that they also think of John,” continued Green, who wished him well in his new job. “His high standards of excellence, special discipline, and dedication to hard work will only serve to make our district better!”

On behalf of the school, the student body’s acting president, Pearl Pinkham, presented Brooks with a giant card from staff, teachers and students. In the gym, under Ella Lewis’s Eagle mascot spray-painted on the wall, the Brookses filed through two lines of students, each of whom presented the custodian with a purple-heart card. In the hallway, the custodian passed through another student formation receiving more purple hearts along the way. The festivities ended with the entire school enjoying vanilla and lemon cake with purple frosting — the school color — made by Administrative Assistant Deb Bisson. 

“He has always gone above and beyond for teachers and students,” Bisson said. “He takes pride in everything he does and does it right.” 

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]