‘We all love George’

A longtime custodian for Seymour Community Schools doesn’t plan to change his routine much after turning 70 earlier this month.

Although technically he could have retired as much as five years ago, George Hoffman said he doesn’t see any reason to give up the job he loves.

“Maybe in three more years,” he said. “Or maybe I’ll just keep working after that.”

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By that time, he will have spent half a century making sure teachers and students have had clean classrooms, hallways, lockers and bathrooms and that the building has always looked its best for visitors.

Taking out the trash, vacuuming the carpet and wiping down desks and chairs are just some of the tasks that make up his daily work routine. He also helps out at sporting events and other activities by cleaning up afterwards.

Hoffman, who has mild cognitive disabilities, began working at Shields Junior High in 1969 and before that was an employee at the former Holiday Inn in Seymour, where he did light maintenance work. He has been at Seymour Middle School since it opened in the fall of 1981.

On Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, as he likes to point out, Hoffman celebrated his 70th birthday by going to work.

This year, custodial staff, teachers and others who work at Seymour Middle School gathered in the school library, which Hoffman also is responsible for cleaning, to wish him happy birthday. They surprised him with a birthday cake and a new 42-inch flat-screen television, which staff members chipped in to buy.

“He deserves it,” said math teacher Tom Lucas, who helped organize the party. “George is one of the good guys, and he does a lot for us here.”

Since most custodial work is done after school hours, Hoffman arrives around 3 p.m. and works until 11 p.m. every night Monday through Friday.

He enjoys his weekends off and spends his time in the summer doing special maintenance projects, including shampooing carpets, waxing floors and cleaning lockers to prepare for the beginning of the school year.

Hoffman doesn’t let his disability define him or what he can and can’t do. He has his own apartment, shops for himself and drives. On Sundays, he might stop by to do some shopping at Jay C Foods Plus, and he spends time at Seymour Christian Church, where retired Seymour Middle School teacher Wayne Huddleston also attends. The two have been friends for more than three decades.

“I go to Wayne’s church now,” Hoffman said. “He is a good friend.”

Huddleston made sure to attend the surprise party and said he planned to help Hoffman set up the TV.

Another longtime friend of Hoffman’s is Cheryl Fenton, who teaches language arts.

Fenton said she appreciates the job Hoffman does and is inspired by his positive attitude when it comes to work and life.

“We all love George,” Fenton said. “He works really hard and never complains. I can always count on him to do extra little things in my classroom. The students love him, too.”

In fact, some of Fenton’s students made him cards wishing him happy birthday and thanking him for his efforts in keeping the school clean. He also received cards from former Seymour Middle School teachers and administrators.

Recently, Hoffman became a hero after he found a teacher having a diabetic emergency passed out in her classroom. He was able to alert Fenton, who called 911.

“He was very calm and did exactly the right thing,” Fenton said. “He was very concerned for the teacher the whole time, even after they took her to the hospital.”

The teacher was revived at the scene and suffered no injuries as a result of the situation. She also attended Hoffman’s party and made sure to give him a hug and thank him for being there.

Fenton said unlike herself, Hoffman has the uncanny ability to remember the age and birthday of everyone with whom he works, which makes him the go-to person when talking about the past.

He also remembers important dates in the school’s history, such as when construction began on the building in 1979 and when it opened in 1981.

“It took two years,” he said. “There was a lot of work for us to do to get everything ready.”

After eating his cake and opening his present, Hoffman made sure to hug and shake hands with all of his guests before it was time to go.

“I’ve got work to do,” he said.