Clean break

School janitor retires after 33 years

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2004

The tests have been taken and the bell has rung for the last time this year. Students at Kenai Central High School -- and throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District -- finished up another school year Thursday, and teachers will wrap up their work today.

But tonight, after all the lockers and desks are emptied, the bulletin boards cleared and white boards erased, there still will be work to do.

Clarence Duncan is one of a handful of custodians responsible for the general cleaning and upkeep at Kenai Central High School. A swing-shift worker, Duncan will enter the school today, as the teachers are leaving, for an evening of vacuuming, window-washing and garbage emptying. When tonight's work is done, though, the school year will truly be over for Duncan -- for good.

After 33 years of cleaning up after the day-to-day education at the school -- the least he does, really -- Duncan is retiring, looking forward to time to play on his computer, travel, spend time with his wife and volunteer.

To say he'll be missed would be an understatement.

Thirty-three years of service means Duncan has seen an entire generation grow up and send their own children to school. Some of his co-workers are even former students he remembers from their days at KCHS.


Photo by M. Scott Moon Clarence Duncan II is reflected in a mirror as he cleans a restroom at Kenai Central High School earlier this week. "You can see through my work," he joked as he polished a window afterward. He is retiring this month after 33 years at the school.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"He hasn't changed a bit," said Jan Stephens, who remembers Duncan from her years as a student and now works with him as a custodian at the school.

Even more amazing is that Duncan remembers Stephens -- and many, many others -- from their days as students, enough so that he can recall their graduation years with only a slight margin of error.

"I do get senior moments, too," he confessed.

But attention to students is what Duncan is known for -- even though he doesn't work during the school day.

"He always says 'hello' to everyone," said freshman Danielle Nath.

"After school, he always stops and talks to us ... asks how our day went," added freshman Morgan Gabriel.

Older students also appreciate Duncan's influence. The senior class requested that he be on the stage for their graduation Monday, and Principal Dennis Dunn said at least three-fourths of the students stopped to hug the long-time custodian.

"One of the things that's remarkable about Clarence is that he's a smiling face for kids," Dunn said. "At graduation, he received a standing ovation, and the first group up was the kids."

Duncan hasn't always been a custodian. The Pennsylvania native started out in the Air Force and was stationed in Alaska, among other places.

"That cliche is still valid: Once you've been in Alaska, you'll return," he said.

Years later, when he and his wife, Lois -- who now works at Heritage Place -- had the opportunity to return to Alaska on a mission trip with the Assembly of God Church, they took it.

They helped build Aurora Heights Assembly of God Church -- now called Inlet Faith Assembly of God -- and helped round up a congregation.

"It was supposed to be a short-term deal, but when the big wheels came up from Springfield, Mo., they said stay as long as the Lord wants you to," Duncan said. "We've been here ever since."

Duncan started working at KCHS in 1970, though he and his wife returned to Pennsylvania for a year.

"Things didn't pan out as we anticipated, so we came back," he said. "I picked up where I left off."

Until now.

"I've told the seniors, juniors and parents I'm graduating this school year," he said. "You know the political push with the No Child Left Behind (Act)? Well, after 22 years, I guess this applies to me, too, and I don't have to take the exit exam."

But, he added, he's sorry to say goodbye to the students, who he said are the best part of the job: "It's a challenge dealing with them, working with them, interacting. I'll miss them."

He said he may be back soon, though. He and his wife plan to move to Colorado for their retirement but won't leave until Lois retires two years from now.

"Everybody says he'll drive me nuts, but he's got lots to do," Lois Duncan whispered with a laugh.

For example?

Clarence Duncan said, "I'd like to volunteer and do something here to help occupy my time and keep involved with the students."

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