Before most of us down our first cup of coffee, Mike White, the lead custodian at South Middle School, has been hard at work for several hours.
On a spring day last month, White had already swept the gym floors, fixed a lock on a gate at the football field, cleaned up the cafeteria after breakfast and mended a rail on the stairs.
And that was all before 9:30 a.m.
“It’s been a busy day,” White said.
For more than eight years, White, 48, has shuffled furniture from room to room, washed windows, scrubbed floors and set up for sporting events at Lawrence schools.
“He’s kind of the glue of the building that holds things together,” said Tom Bracciano, division director of facilities and maintenance for Lawrence Public Schools.
Secretaries and custodians are key to making schools run smoothly, Bracciano said. Today, the custodian’s job involves making sure buildings are secure, understanding complex heating and cooling systems and being a presence in the lunch room.
“It is not just going in and cleaning bathrooms, that is the least part of the job now,” Bracciano said.
White started at Lawrence High School as a custodian more than eight years ago. Six months into the job, the position as the lead night custodian came open and White took over.
It was a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift that had White overseeing a staff of six to seven people. At night his crews would set up for sporting events, school plays and meetings. They made sure the time clock was working, pulled out the gym risers and set up chairs.
During the summer, they would wax the floors, paint the walls and move furniture.
“If something needed to be done, he stayed over and helped finish it up,” Lawrence High School Principal Matt Brungardt said of White.
Before the start of this school year, South Middle School principal Will Fernandez was looking for a lead custodian who would be dedicated and work well with students, teachers and staff.
Bracciano said he knew just the person.
“What we really look for in a custodian to run our building is someone who takes pride in what they do,” Bracciano said.
And, that describes White.
‘I’ll try to get to it as quick as I can,’ is White’s typical response when assigned a task, Fernandez said. He’ll even come in on a weekend to make sure it gets done.
“He’s a home run,” Fernandez said. “I ask him to do something, there’s no grumbling or complaining. He does it as efficiently and as effectively as he can.”
Behind-the-scenes is how Esther Long would characterize White and his wife Sheila. Long, whose husband Ken leads the Lawrence Church of Christ, described him as an “incredible servant.”
Once a month, the Whites setup a meal for a fellowship lunch after the service for up to 125 people. On many of those occasions White will cook the main meat, roasting turkeys or smoking pulled pork at home. His wife brings dessert.
“He is just the type of person, if someone has a need, he will just step up and help out. He doesn’t draw attention to himself,” Long said.
White moved to Lawrence from Jefferson City, Mo., in first grade. He attended the Lawrence public schools until the 11th grade, when his family returned to Missouri. After he finished school, White returned to Lawrence in 1986.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
He has three children, Samantha, 21, Sydney, 12, and Mike Jr., 5.
White has one particular student at South he’s keeping an eye on this year. His daughter, Sydney is a sixth-grader there.
“It was nice to show her around and help her out,” he said.
White applied for the high school’s custodian job after getting hurt while working construction. He tried working in a factory first, but discovered it wasn’t his thing.
At one time White had a business office cleaning company, so when he saw an ad in the paper for the custodian job, he applied.
He’s glad he did.
“I like the atmosphere and the kids. I’m a very kid friendly person,” White said. “And the teachers and staff are awesome. It’s fun to come to work."