Longtime Custodian at Catonsville High Celebrates 40 Years
James Perry is honored by students, parents and staff.
When Don Mohler was principal of Catonsville High School and students vandalized an item in a school bathroom, he did something he knew would stop the vandalism immediately.
He invoked the name of Mr. Perry.
The beloved custodian at the high school was going to be the one who had to fix the vandalism, and Mohler knew students would feel bad about that.
Parents, staff and the school community honored James Perry on Wednesday. Perry, who has been a custodian at the high school for 40 years, is not retiring, but the school wanted to recognize him for his service.
At a celebration after school, more than 50 students, staff and parents gathered to honor Perry, who was in attendance along with his family.
"He is a key part of this school community," Mohler said.
A resident of Baltimore city, Perry started working at the high school in 1972. Back then, he remembers staying at the school overnight to get up early to shovel snow in the morning. As late as the 1990s, he remembers running through the building with a hair dryer on cold days to get the thermostat operating.
Perry also used to mannually change all the locker combinations by hand at the end of the school year. School staff recall him scooting down the hall in a rolling chair going from locker to locker. He also use to mop the cafeteria floor by hand and fill the coal burner at the school at least seven times a day.
But beyond his responsibilities to the physical building, Perry made a lasting impression on generations of students.
Teacher Sandra Gallagher-Mohler said she often points to Perry as a role model.
"To have that example to point to day in and day out, that's the best you could ever give me," she said.
Perry, who didn't speak much during the half-hour ceremony, beamed when he was given several gifts, including tickets to four Baltimore Ravens home games, as well as a gift certificate to Taneytown Deli, where he is a regular.
After the ceremony, Perry said he was surprised by the whole thing.
"I didn't want to cry," he said. "I was almost in tears."
Over the years, Perry has seen the school modernize, and also helped with the renovations that were completed in 2010.
Principal Deb Bittner said Perry helped her learn the ins and outs of the school when she arrived as principal. In fact, during the renovation, many tradesmen who would come to the school to work would ask specifically for Perry, instead of other staff.
While the job has changed over the years, Perry said he knows the school pretty well.
"It's been so long there's nothing I'm not aware of," he said.