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Longtime custodian loves what he does, shuns spotlight

45 years of service recognized
By Fran Gonzalez | Sep 03, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Richard "Dickie" Emery celebrates 45 years of continuous service to Walker Elementary School, shown here Aug. 27.

Liberty — When Richard “Dickie” Emery began working at Walker Elementary School, President Gerald Ford was in office, the price of gas was around 44 cents a gallon and one could buy a brand-new Ford Mustang II for $4,105.

On Aug. 20, Emery received a Certificate of Appreciation for his 45 years of continuous service to the school district. Emery, who just turned 63, said jokingly that he's "still looking for another job."

In 1975, the 17-year old Emery was working "in the woods," and making little money. He said it kept snowing that winter. His mother, who worked at Walker as a cook, told him about a potential job as a custodian at the school.

"I jumped right on it and have been here ever since," he said. "It's been a good job, that's for sure."

The secret to his career longevity, he said, is that he loves what he does. He also said that he loves working with kids. The students call him "Dickie," or "Mr. Dickie" after teachers thought it would be more appropriate, as a sign of respect.

"That's going to be hard," he said. "A lot of the kids will come in and give me a hug, which we can't do now ... Some kids really need that."

He also enjoys working close to where he lives. Emery said he has lived in the area all his life and even attended Walker School himself for five years. Currently he lives in Montville with his wife, Johann, who is the school's secretary.

His first wife, Emery said, died in 2003 of cancer and he met Johann while working at Walker. He has a daughter who teaches kindergarten at Mount View Elementary and a son who works at Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville. Emery also has two grandkids — a granddaughter who will be a freshman at Mount View and a grandson who will start fifth grade at Troy Elementary.

The school building has changed dramatically over time, he said, with a large addition to the old facility in 1986, 50 years after the original construction. "It used to be more 'homey' back in the day," he said. "Before they built on, we'd gather together downstairs in the cafeteria."

The dark basement area is now storage, with a large room that houses the teachers' lounge. "Mom was a cook and we'd gather in the kitchen before we'd start work and chat, drinking coffee," he said. "Now no one is allowed in the kitchen besides me and the cook," Emery said.

His official title is custodial maintenance, he said, which translates to "anything I'm capable of doing."

Some jobs, he said, he can't do because he is not licensed, but if he can fix it, he will. Maintenance is also part of his duties, which he said, "I just do — it's foolish not to." Much of it, he said, is common sense.

On this day, Emery is moving furniture to the basement in preparation for the beginning of school. His arthritis, he said, makes everything hurt a little more. Every year he tells himself, one more year, but admittedly, he is starting to slow down. This summer is the first time in 45 years he has taken a vacation. He went camping with Johann.

Walker School now, he said, is structurally in very good shape. "The school had to have been beautiful in its time, with all this hardwood."

The principal's office, perched above the large entrance in the old part of the building, has a large arched window typical of the classical revival style in which it was built, overlooking the front yard where the buses drop off students.

"This school is really nice," he said. "It sticks out." The people in the school and the community stand out as well, he said.

A highlight of his career was when he was presented with a plaque in 1996 at a surprise ceremony at school when the new gymnasium was named after him. He said he feels uneasy being the center of attention and that it was a good thing the event was a surprise, because "I probably wouldn't have gone."

The certificate from Regional School Unit 3 to Richard "Dickie" Emery for 45 years of service to the district.
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