Charlie Zettel helps his wife Irene put on her coat as she prepares to leave St. Teresa school on Tuesday. Irene had come to watch the staff and students say goodbye to Charlie. You see, Charlie has been the custodian at the school for 16 years and on Wednesday he retired, bringing an end to a 20-year career with the school board. Charlie opened the door and led his wife out to the parking lot and gave her a soft kiss goodbye before he shuffled back in the school to begin the remainder of his day cleaning and taking care of a building he knows like the back of his hand.
“We are ready to spend a lot of time together. I am looking forward to having him to myself for a while and being able to pick up and do whatever we want, it will be a nice change,” said Irene.
An hour earlier students had prepared a goodbye ceremony, acting out skits and singing songs to their favorite custodian.
Tears were shed by some, mostly teachers, and everyone stood in line to give Charlie a hug goodbye or a high five.
“He will be missed. He is the school and he deserves all the rest he can get when he leaves here one last time,” said principal Sherry Peeples. “He knows it takes more than teachers to help these kids – it is a community effort, and he helped out every way he could. The kids see that and learn from that as well.”
Charlie didn’t want a big sendoff; he is a modest guy and doesn’t like being the centre of attention. He took care of the school and would come in during weekends and late at night to make sure everything was running smoothly for the kids the next day. That is the way Charlie did things: he never looked for praise or glory, he just quietly went about his job.
“You have to like kids to be able to work a job like this,” said Charlie. “I like to tease some of the kids and I have great memories of a lot of the kids that attended the school. I will miss the school and all the staff and kids, but I am ready to start the next chapter.”
Charlie turned 65 on Nov. 9 and even though he could have continued working at the school he just felt it was time to take one final sweep and close that door one last time.
“I started working in 1992 when I was laid off from a manufacturing job. It was hard to come by jobs back then, just like it is now for younger people. I don’t need to work and I know that someone taking my spot will do a great job and take care of this place just as I did.”
Although he and his wife don’t have any plans just yet for his retirement, Charlie is looking forward to sleeping in and hanging out at a coffee shop and starting in on some hobbies, including his stamp collection, model airplanes and building a family tree.
“I know he doesn’t want to slow down because he is so use to going and going; he will probably end up getting a part-time job somewhere,” said Irene.
Charlie has two grandchildren that attend the school who will probably miss him the most as they would often stop by his office during a bathroom break to visit their grandfather for a little chat.
“It has been great for him to see them everyday and they will miss him at the school but at least they had a chance to see their grandfather everyday, not a lot of kids get that kind of opportunity,” said Irene.
Charlie has seen a lot of changes occur over the years but one thing he said has been constant, kids are always kids and they sometimes get up to no good and sometimes they can surprise you, but for the most part kids just need guidance and he was happy to have helped where he could.