When a retiring janitor at East Elementary left the school after his last day, the 18-year veteran got an unexpected farewell.
Hundreds of schoolchildren flocked to the edge of the school grounds during their morning recess Friday to wave goodbye to Don Dorland.
"All the kids were standing along the east fence waving at me," said Dorland. "It was pretty sharp."
And as he drove away, the children followed his car, yelling and motioning to the man most of them barely knew.
Not only did it make Dorland's day, but it touched Brett Sperl, a teacher who said Dorland was like a father figure to him.
"It was so nice to see him sitting all the way back in his seat with his head back, grinning from ear to ear," said Sperl, the school's physical education teacher. "It put a chill right up my back. It was one of those things you almost call priceless."
Earlier in the week, the school held a retirement breakfast for Dorland. Teachers and staff, as well as school district administrators came to honor the longtime employee.
Dorland was appreciative of the breakfast and the recognition, but Sperl said the janitor told him, "All I wanted was for everybody to wave goodbye on my last day."
That planted the idea for Sperl, who helped arrange the students' gesture.
Since Dorland worked the graveyard shift, the students rarely saw him. Sperl had to explain to some of them that Dorland came in during the night to clean the school and take care of things while they were home in bed.
And Dorland did more than his share in that capacity, Sperl said.
"Don goes beyond as a custodian," Sperl said. "We usually have to put in a work order for maintenance to come and fix things. Not with Don."
Dorland took on tasks not technically in his job description, Sperl said. In addition to cleaning the building at night, Dorland changed light bulbs, helped with snow and ice removal and put together the various equipment teachers and students require.
"A lot of things need to be assembled," Sperl said. "You'll come in in the morning and Don's got your new chair ready to go."
Dorland likes to fish, and he said he plans to take it easy now that he's retired, although he said he'll work part time in the mornings at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building.
Dorland's wife Wanda said the students and teachers made a memorable last day for her husband.
"He thought that was awesome."
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com