Head Custodian Jeff Hedrick Fills Many Roles


Hedrick’s work ethic is not the only thing he brings to BHS. He is friendly with many of the employees in the school and can be seen at lunchtime giving advice, declaring his opinions, or trading jokes. Photo by Cathy Perloff.

On a rainy May morning, at the storm drain behind the cafeteria, a mother duck stood helpless. All her ducklings were trapped beneath the iron grate, and she had no way of retrieving them. She eyed the storm drain anxiously, refusing to leave her deserted babies.

The scene took place near the kitchen, and the lunch staff immediately called BHS head custodian Jeff Hedrick to the rescue. At this moment Hedrick went from custodial supervisor to savior.

“He got a shovel, pried the lid off and scooped all the baby ducks out of the water,” said Chris Smigelski, food prep cashier. “Then they followed the mother and took off.”

When students see Hedrick giving instructions to a subordinate in the halls, cleaning up the cafeteria or joking with faculty and staff during lunchtime, it is doubtful they realize the complexity and intensity of his job, nor the seriousness with which he fulfills it.

When students see Hedrick they probably do realize he is a custodian, but not also a gardener, woodworker, grandfather, avid lottery player, and now animal rescuer. Hedrick’s run in with the ducks exemplifies the ways in which he does and does not fulfill the typical roles of a custodian.

Hedrick was born on a farm in West Virginia and moved to Chardon when he was nine. After graduating Chardon High School, he worked making electric motors at a plant. He thought this job would turn into a long-term career.

“They closed the plant and moved down south and did not take any of the employees with them,” Hedrick said. “I was out of work for about a year. I was married and had my one daughter at that time who was baby. I had to find a job that would be full time and pay me benefits.”

Custodial work seemed like a solution, offering stability in the rapidly globalizing economy of the 1980s. The job was difficult at first. In the beginning of his career, he had to work second shift, from 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and one year, he had to even work third shift, from 10:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Hedrick found the third shift trying. “Because you’re coming home, you’re going to bed, you’re not getting up until say noon, and then you have to get ready to go back to work. So it cuts your evening life short.”

He thought it would be a temporary job, but Hedrick will have been a custodian for thirty years on July 1, spending twenty-two years as a custodian and later head custodian for Berkshire School District and another eight as the head custodian for Beachwood High School.

While he now works the day shift, his job is by no means a walk in the park. He arrives every morning at 6 a.m., and during the winter, he arrives at 4 a.m.

“My assumed duty in the morning is to clean bathrooms and [the] teachers lounge,” Hedrick said. As head custodian, he is also charged with scheduling and making sure all the other custodians are assigned to a specific location.

Coordinating and cleaning up can be cumbersome given the vast expanse of the school. “The big thing here is that it’s all one floor that is spread out,” he said. “One of the teachers mapped it out. It’s a half mile from the pool to the south gym.” He added that this distance can feel very long when it must be traversed fifteen to twenty times a day.

“Then my responsibilities are the cafeteria, unloading the trucks, and taking care of any emergencies that come up during the day,” he said.

Hedrick’s foray with the ducks may have been one of his more unusual assignments, but staff and faculty say he’s there to help with whatever is needed.

“As long as I remember working with him, he’s been one of the most helpful custodians I know of,” said Smigelski, who has come to know Hedrick during lunchtimes over the past eight years.

Science teacher Jamie Lader, who has become friendly with Hedrick for five years, also attests to this helpfulness. According to Lader, he has helped the biology classes and cross country team when they were lacking necessary items.

Hedrick’s job doesn’t end when he leaves the BHS doors. Whenever the other custodians have questions or run into unexpected problems, they call Hedrick.

“I’ve been at a wedding and had phone calls or just [have been] out to dinner. It can get annoying at times when you’re trying to do something,” he said.

“It doesn’t bother me that bad. It’s got to be done, and if you don’t take care of it, it’s going to be a bigger problem the next day,” Hedrick added.

Hedrick’s work ethic is not the only thing he brings to BHS. He is friendly with many of the employees in the school and can be seen at lunchtime giving advice, declaring his opinions, or trading jokes.

Lader described Hedrick’s “ability to talk to everyone” as the quality he admires most. “He’s just a friendly guy. Sometimes the custodial staff don’t  always befriend a lot of people around here because their jobs inhibit them from doing so,” Lader said.

“He’s got a humorous side; it makes your day go by quicker,” Smigelski added.

One of Hedrick’s biggest passions is gardening, and both Lader and Smigelski described the hobby as a big topic of conversation.

Hedrick’s daily reading of the newspaper and watching of the nightly news is another point of conversation. “I think the reason we became friendly is because a lot of times we would talk about was the election. We agreed about a lot of things that I never thought we would,” Lader said.

Despite the fact that Hedrick will soon be eligible for retirement, approaching his 30th year as a custodian, he intends to remain at his job for a good time longer.

“As long as I have my health and can work, I will keep on working,” Hedrick said. “Retirement becomes old and boring quick. Because if you give me two weeks off, I’m ready to come back to work.”

Until the day comes when Hedrick hangs up his uniform for good, many at BHS are glad he is part of the high school community. “He’s a super bright guy, super trustworthy, and super helpful. He’s the type of person who would give the shirt off his back,” Lader said.