By Emily Williams
The student body of Crestline Elementary school gathered May 2 to hear the news that custodial staff member Jerome Lewis had won first place in the nationwide Janitor of the Year competition.
The news was presented as the finale of a half-hour program that began and ended with performances by second- and third-graders of an original song, “Jerome is the Man!”
“We are so happy because we are celebrating a man that we all love so much,” Crestline Principal Laurie King told students, faculty and community members who attended the ceremony. “Unfortunately, Mr. Jerome could not be here today, but he is here in spirit and he told me to tell you up front, ‘Thank you, kid.'”
King then welcomed Lilly Wright, student council president, to kick off a presentation of gifts for Lewis created by each grade.
“From all his actions, I know he is not only a role model for me, but all of Crestline’s students,” she said.
Gifts included books, CDs and other projects inspired by students’ appreciation for Lewis.
An acrostic poem, crafted by the Spanish class in Spanish, described Lewis as joyous, exemplary, responsible, obedient, magnificent and enviable. The special education class created a T-shirt using their thumbprints to form a tree, symbolizing the lasting impression Lewis has had on their lives. The art class presented a large mosaic tree to represent Lewis’ strength and ability to protect them.
Few eyes remained dry during a video presentation featuring words from Lewis, Crestline faculty members and family friend Lynn Ortis. Lewis has been battling malignant esophageal cancer since 2013, yet nearly each speech given spoke of his strength, his devotion to his faith and his ever-present smile.
“Even though he is battling cancer, he goes out of his way to help us,” student Henry Stalka said. “I would bet only a few men in the world would do that.”
A representative of Cintas gave the announcement that, with 25 percent of more than a half million votes, Lewis won Janitor of the Year. He then presented the award as well as a $5,000 check to Lewis and a $5,000 check to Crestline Elementary. Crestline uses janitorial supplies from Cintas, which sponsored the contest.
King accepted the awards and told students she will show Lewis a video of the ceremony when she presents the award to him.
“Mr. Jerome told me that I could speak on his behalf since he isn’t able to be here,” King said. “What he wanted me to say was that he is blessed and grateful. … He said to stay positive and smile big and we’re all going to keep smiling so that he will feel the love.”