Decades of dedication behind the scenes
CHRISTIANSBURG — Over the past four decades, thousands of students have passed through the halls of Montgomery County public schools.
During that same span, one man has been behind the scenes, working to keep many of those halls, classrooms and cafeterias, clean, safe and functioning for those students.
In December 1971, 13-year-old David Hodge began working for the custodial department of Montgomery County Public Schools, and more than 40 years later, the now 54-year-old remains on the staff serving as the custodial manager for the entire county.
“There isn’t anything he hasn’t seen, there isn’t anything he hasn’t cleaned up, there’s not an hour in the day or year he hasn’t responded,” said Don Berenato, director of facilities and planning.
A 1976 Blacksburg High School graduate, Hodge said he began working eight-hour days for the county as a freshman. He would attend classes, which included work-study periods where he would assist with cleaning the cafeteria, and remained at the school long after the final bell to complete other duties.
Hodge said he was tasked with the upkeep of the school’s second floor, including cleaning 16 classrooms, two community bathrooms and close to 10 single bathrooms, while also cleaning the locker rooms and gym. He said his days at the school most often began before 7:30 a.m. and ended after 11 p.m.
Hodge took part in the World Championship Preacherboy contest in Oklahoma, in which he prepared and delivered a sermon in front of about 6,000 people. As a result, Hodge said he won a four-year scholarship to a Bible college of his choosing and attended school at Bluefield College of Evangelism in Bluefield, W. Va., following his high school graduation.
Hodge said that after one year at the school it was clear to him that preaching was not going to be his occupation. He returned to the school system, taking a custodial position at Blacksburg Middle School, and married his high school sweetheart, Joyce.
By 1978, Hodge said he’d realized he needed to earn more money than he was yielding. Then facilities manager Bruce Stevens encouraged him to apply for a position as a head custodian, which Hodge did.
“A month or a few weeks later he called me up and said, ‘You still interested?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ … I interviewed with the principal [Ray Lucas], and after the interview I was told I was selected, and the rest is kind of history,” Hodge said.
Hodge remained the head custodian at the school until 2000, when he took his current position as custodial manager.
Now Hodge oversees about 100 custodians working in 20 schools and three administrative buildings, as well as working with local and state officials to make sure each building is kept up to code.
Though custodial work may not be viewed along the same lines as other emergency services, Joyce Hodge said her husband’s dedication to his job most often keeps him available around the clock.
“He wears that phone 24/7,” Joyce Hodge said. “He always answers them and does the best he can [to help].”
One of the more memorable times his phone rang was after hours on a Friday evening in the spring of 1999 when a kiln — used for baking clay art pieces — caused a fire to break out in Christiansburg High School’s two art classrooms, Hodge recalled.
Hodge said he stayed the entire length of the 32-hour fire watch, but that was just the beginning of his weekend’s work. Though the fire only destroyed the two art rooms, the impact was felt throughout the entire building.
“You could have walked through pretty much any classroom at that point and wrote your name on a student’s desk. There was just that much residue,” Hodge said.
Hodge said many officials, including then Christiansburg Fire Department Chief James Epperly, had serious questions as to whether or not Hodge and his staff could make the building suitable for students before Monday morning.
“I said ‘I’m going to take care of it, I’m going to make it happen,’ ” Hodge said. “When it was my building, it was just like it would have been my home.”
Following what Hodge called “round-the-clock cleaning” that weekend, the students returned to school without having missed a day due to the fire.
Once he was promoted to custodial manager, Hodge no longer had a building to call his own, but that didn’t stop the urgent phone calls.
On Feb. 13, 2010, Hodge received a phone call informing him that Blacksburg High School’s roof had collapsed.
He said he was among the first responders on the scene, working to cut off the gas, water and electricity to the building, as well as helping to ensure the building was vacant.
“Looking back and saying ‘Oh, gosh, this building has collapsed,’ and the next thing you know you’re being asked to go with the first responders and open doors and go under the basement and see, you know, if there was anybody there,” Hodge said.
Hodge admitted that such times could be very stressful, but overall, he enjoyed the fast-paced nature of his chosen field.
“You’re not idle at any one time. I’ve always kind of enjoyed that run, I guess,” Hodge said.
Another aspect of his profession he has enjoyed has been playing a role in the education of a multitude of students, many of whom still remember him today.
“I can go just about anywhere, and I run into these kids everywhere, and they say, ‘I know you, I remember you, when I went through school you were there,’ ” Hodge said.
Joyce Hodge said her husband’s popularity extends far beyond the lines of Montgomery County, and she couldn’t recall a vacation in which the couple hadn’t run into someone who recognized Hodge.
Hodge and his value to the education of those students has also been recognized by his fellow workers.
“He’s one of those guys you wish every employee was like,” Berenato said. “He just takes care of business.”
Berenato also recalled a conversation he had early on in his position with the late George Porterfield, who served as principal of Christiansburg High School for 22 years, regarding the value of Hodge and his staff.
“He said, ‘If I’m not here, school goes on, education gets done. … If David and his guys weren’t here doing the cleaning, we’d have to close the schools down,’ ” Berenato said.
Despite more than 40 years of service, if it’s up to Hodge, Montgomery County won’t be without him any time soon.
“I look forward to going to work every day,” Hodge said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643