Unsung Hero #27

Every school in Westport is filled with Unsung Heroes: its custodians. Dozens of men and women work day and night. They clean floors, empty trash, move equipment and do countless other tasks so that our kids can learn — and our teachers can teach — in the cleanest, nicest and best environments possible.

I could single out many Westport custodians as this week’s Unsung Hero. I’m focusing on Jose Alvarez — but he stands for all of them.

Jose begins work at Staples High School at 5 p.m. His domain is the first floor — including the main office wing. It’s the most visible part of the school, and the pride he takes in making it shine is palpable.

He stayed late one night, because there were scuff marks he was still working to remove. That’s a regular occurrence: He won’t leave until his area is perfect.

He washes coffee mugs on administrators’ desks. They don’t want him to, but he insists.

Jose Alvarez

Jose is Colombian. He learned English by listening to lessons on headphones, as he worked.

One of his proudest moments was the day he became an American citizen. He’d studied hard for the test. Principal John Dodig arranged for a cake, and a small ceremony. Jose beamed with pride.

“He’s grateful for everything,” says current principal James D’Amico. “And we’re grateful for him. People come in, and can’t believe how clean and shiny the building looks.”

Staples head custodian Horace Lewis — an Unsung Hero himself — says Jose “never takes a day off. He’s always here, and always does his job so well.”

When he does have a vacation, Jose travels. He’s been to Israel and Italy. Of course, he returns to Colombia whenever he can.

But then it’s back to Westport. There is a school to take care of, and Jose is proud to do it.

(Hat tip: Karen Romano)

13 responses to “Unsung Hero #27

  1. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Jose and family.

  2. Awesome guy and wonderful story. Thanks Jose! – Chris Woods

  3. Jose is simply the best! I can attest to your article Dan, as I have three decorative coffee cups that are never dusty!

  4. People often times forget those that make the ship run well from below deck. Very awesome and well deserved, thnks to Horace and Jose and Dan for sharing.

  5. Jose is such a valued member of the Staples Community! Thanks Dan for sharing. You’re a great colleague and friend Jose! Thank you.

  6. Surprisingly, I don’t think I know Jose but he sounds like another dedicated, friendly and fabulous professional like his supervisor, Horace Lewis! After 6 years of working (as a volunteer parent) with Horace at CMS I can still recall biddng him a teary farewell in 2001. Happily, we were reunited years later when I was by then working for the Staples Players and he made a transfer to oversee the SHS team.

    Horace has an infectious smile, a genteel spirit and an open and approachable manner, setting a wonderful tone for his team and making him an amazing asset to the WPS system!

    Three cheers for Jose, Horace and all of WPS custodians!

  7. America is an IDEA, not a specific group of people. Those who are terrified of the browning of America should meet Jose. He is NOT Caucasian. His skin is not white. His dominant language is Spanish, but he is American!! His background is fascinating. He works as a custodian with pride. He does a good job because his standards are high. He did his job every day while studying to become an American citizen. That was his goal/his dream. In my opinion, he is the definition of what it means to be an American. If we work hard and are lucky, when America becomes a country where the majority of our citizens have brown skin and they are all like Jose, America will flourish and continue to be a beacon to people all around the world. He is here because he knows that America offers what billions of people around the world don’t have. He represents, to me, the definition of what means to be an American.

  8. Mary Cookman Schmerker SHS '58

    Thank you Mr. Dodig. I have never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Alvarez but I do not doubt one word of praise and appreciation that has been said about him. I know several men and women who do not happen to be Caucasian or who were not born in this country. All of them have worked hard, are dedicated to perform their duties with excellence and are grateful for every opportunity they have. We will be better as a Country when we embrace them . Thank you Mr. Alvarez for all you do to keep Staples the wonderful place that it always. Do not doubt that your contribution is needed, necessary and important.

  9. Eugenie ten Cate

    Thank you Jose for everything you do for Staples!

  10. Thank you for that excellent comment, John Dodig, and thanks to Dan Woog for a wonderful article. Immigrants make America stronger.

  11. A hard worker. A kind soul. A loyal friend. A brother. Great article.

  12. Maria Vailakis-Wippick

    I cannot tell you how much I miss the meticulous cleaning and care Jose provided when my office was in the Main Office Suite. I miss Jose. As someone else stated, he’s a kind and friendly soul. But most of all, he has a superior work ethic and he takes such pride in his work. It’s the same work Greek work ethic & pride that was instilled in me ( Having been born in Crete, Greece, I was naturalized as an American citizen when I was 12 years old.)

  13. Maria Vailakis-Wippick

    I cannot tell you how much I miss the meticulous cleaning and care Jose provided when my office was in the Main Office Suite. I miss Jose. As someone else stated, he’s a kind and friendly soul. But most of all, he has a superior ethic and he takes such pride in his work. It’s the same work Greek work ethic & pride that was instilled in me ( Having been born in Crete, Greece, I was naturalized as an American citizen when I was 12 years old.)

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