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Linda Mah
/ Categories: Communications

’You’re Brave, And Smart, And Thoughtful’

Winchell Honors Longtime Custodian

Every now and then a Winchell Elementary School student — usually one of the little ones — would come up to Larry Martin and whisper, “We’re going to do something for you, but I can’t tell you what it is.”

Martin would smile, because that’s what he’s known for, and nod as they bubbled with excitement. So, when he was called to the gymnasium in the middle of the Kindness Week assembly, the school custodian suspected that the “emergency” wasn’t too dire — but he didn’t suspect the outpouring of enthusiasm and love he’d find there.

The entire student body, many parents, all of the teachers, and even parents and students from years past were there to shower him with attention and accolades. As part of the school’s third annual Kindness Week, the PTO chose to honor one of their children’s favorite people in the building— the one person they can always count on to know their names and to greet them with a warm smile — even when he’s called upon to take care of their “emergencies.”

PTO President Brynn Anderson said, “Mr. Martin is amazing. Children comment all the time that he is their favorite part of coming to school.

“He knows every name and never forgets anyone. He makes you feel so special and always has the best smile on his face. His job is less than glamorous but he doesn’t ever complain or act like he is bothered by the tasks that are thrown his way. I had one child write in their letter, 'When I come to school after having a bad morning at home…. I know that Mr. Martin will greet me with a smile on his face.' I think that sums it up. He is the warmth of Winchell.”

The PTO collected letters, photos, notes and drawings for Martin in three large “Appreciation Albums.” Students Cecilia Gayney and Maggie McBride wrote and performed a song for him. Everyone had the chance to sign a huge banner that was displayed at the back of the gym during the assembly. The PTO also arranged for a substitute custodian to fill in for Martin that afternoon, so he could go to lunch with his wife and family, courtesy of the PTO.

Three students read from their letters of appreciation.

“Dear Mr. Martin, Thank you for all of your kind words, actions and things you do for the school. We really appreciate it. Your hard work and actions bring joy to the school,” said Jasmine Liggins.

Connor Sloan said, “You make kids feel good about themselves. You are one in a million. At my old school the custodians were mean and grouchy.”

“Mr. Martin thank you for all the love you gave the school,” said Jadon Bell. “You gave the people friendly smiles. You’re brave and smart and thoughtful. … We thank you for all you have done.”

Principal Mike Hughes said Martin is a role model of kindness, which is a trait the school celebrates. He has been the school’s day custodian for 15 years.

“He is famous for knowing every student’s name, even when they come back to visit,” after graduating from Winchell, Hughes said. “Parents appreciate how caring he is to their kids, always greeting them by name with a smile.”

Kindness Week is an annual tradition for Winchell, started initially to be part of the school’s MLK celebrations and to combat what the school saw as political divisiveness in the country. Kindness Week includes random acts of kindness outside of school, donations for area charities, and Kindness Boxes, in which students are encouraged to deposit notes of thanks to those around the school.

After the school decided to honor him for Kindness Week, staff found out that Martin plans to retire at the end of the school year. As a special honor, Hughes started a Go Fund Me campaign, with hopes of raising $750 to send Martin to Chicago for a weekend to enjoy a Cubs game.

At the assembly, Hughes announced, “Well, we earned a lot more money than that Mr. Martin, because a lot of people out there love you.”

More than 175 people contributed more than $4,200 to the fund. Many contributors no longer had students at Winchell, and quite a few were former students who are now in their 20s.

After the assembly serenaded him with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Martin, who is soft spoken, addressed the audience. “This was good. I couldn’t imagine this — at least not like this. I’d like to thank everyone. I’m going to miss all of you.”

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