Beloved custodian retired his snow shovel after 33 years at Woodstock ElementaryNov 01, 2021 03:02PM ● By Julie Slama
Although he said he isn’t as spry as when he started working at a custodian more than three decades ago at Woodstock Elementary, Ron Ashby was still able to jump down in front in one last staff and faculty photo. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
A chance of snow was forecast mid-October on the Salt Lake Valley floor and Ron Ashby was not planning to show up to Woodstock Elementary to shovel the walks.
It isn’t because he doesn’t care, but the custodian, who spent decades ensuring the safety for students, faculty and staff, retired Oct. 1—ironically, the day before National Custodian Day.
“I won’t miss cleaning the sidewalks, plowing the snow and salting the walks,” he said at a good-bye luncheon thrown for him by the school. “It’s really physically demanding.”
Even with a bad knee, that didn’t slow Ashby from doing his duties from clearing snow to climbing a ladder to clean windows of the two-story school—or posing down in front of one last faculty and staff photo.
But it was more than that, faculty and staff shared at the luncheon. They said he could talk about current events such as the latest Supreme Court decision or be a willing listener with sound advice.
Ashby also was known to pull a prank or two as he recalled teasing a principal that the 600 chairs weren’t set up yet for an end-of-the-year assembly that was about to begin.
“I looked at the principal and asked, ‘Is that today?’” he said.
Ashby also was a hero to many students, including the one who hugged him after he got her stuck finger out of a hole in a park bench on the playground.
“One time, there was a teacher who came up to me with a boy and had him tell me the story that his mom was pregnant and wanted to know what he would like to name his baby brother. He told me, ‘I told my mom let’s call him Mr. Ashby.’ It made me laugh,” the real Mr. Ashby said.
The affection has been apparent as the school declared March 20, his birthday, as “Mr. Ashby Day,” and bestowed cards, signs and gift cards upon him. At the luncheon, photos showed him on that celebratory day as well as helping at the school for years.
“It made me feel so special; I might just have to come back for that,” he added. “This has been a great place to work. I have great memories. I’ve loved the kids and hearing them sing at their concerts. I’ll miss the people, our friendships.”
Ashby, who graduated from Hillcrest High School in 1978, began working at the original Woodstock Elementary in Jan. 22, 1988, after already working as a custodian at Bonneville Junior High and Kearns Junior High. At the time of his retirement, he served Granite School District students for more than 40 years.
“I worked part time while I was in high school; it is not the most exciting job, but it helped me make money for my mission and school. Since then, it has given me a steady paycheck and good benefits for my three boys, two who were born special needs. I’ve been able to run home to help if I’ve been needed; I couldn’t do any of this without my wife,” Ashby said.
Through seven Woodstock Elementary principals, Ashby said he has guided them while being the “calm” in the emergency, someone to talk to, the person who can take care of something that pops up, or even cleaning up a child’s vomit.
“Ron is the epitome of kindness,” said current principal Brenda Byrnes. “He sees the best in everyone and does everything that is asked of him with a positive attitude. During the four years that we worked together, I got to know Ron and his sweet family and although we will miss him terribly, I know that his family is excited to be able to spend more time with him.”
That includes a family trip to Disneyland this December where he plans to dote on his first grandchild.
“The principals, faculty, staff, parents, kids, PTA, they’ve spoiled me, and it’s been fun being part of their lives, but cleaning bathrooms aren’t as much fun after so many years,” Ashby said. “And not getting up at 5:30 in the morning will be awesome.”
As the faculty and staff, and even former colleagues, roasted him, including with an update of the Crystals’ song now called, “Da Do Ron Ron,” they also were sincere in saying he made a positive impact and difference in the school community.
“The kids love him, and he always is joking, lowering the anxiety of everyone around,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Goeglein, who worked with him more than 20 years. “Every morning and night, he asks the sweetest things. He always thinks of others and has a smile on his face. He listens with empathy and understanding and is just so generous in every sense of the word. He’s just a hero in the classical sense.”
Retired teacher Patti Atwood returned to tell Ashby how much he meant to her while she taught at Woodstock.
“He has a heart of gold,” she said simply.
Atwood also might have snitched a bite of his “famous” version of the English trifle he perfected after serving a church mission in England. Several faculty and staff lamented that it was not only the end of his working there, but the end of the era in having it at school potlucks.
“If they ask, I might just come back and bring it,” he said, then added jokingly, “As long as I don’t have to clean up afterward.”