ADAMS, Mass. — Stanley "Stash" Cote hung up his mop and broom for the final time last month.
The longtime custodian spent 39 years cleaning up after the children of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
But Cote's expectation of sweeping up and walking into retirement didn't go as quietly as expected. Instead, he was met with a hall full of students and faculty thanking him with a "walk of honor."
"I was in the superintendent's office talking about my last day and then I was called out into the hallway," Cote said. "The teachers had scratch tickets for me and the kids had cards. I filled up two boxes with cards all the way down the hall … it was something."
Cote has been seen in every hallway in every building of the school district over the past four decades and has been a fixture in hundreds of students' lives.
It's a position many may find impossible to picture filled by anyone else, but Cote never expected to stay for so long. He was brought on in the late 1970s as a temporary worker at C.T. Plunkett School after losing his job at the Adams Housing Authority.
"I was there as a temporary custodian and originally was only going to be there for a few weeks," he said. "But I have been there ever since."
After his two weeks were up and the actual maintenance person came back from vacation, Cote was ready to move onto the next job. However, a maintenance position opened at Hoosac Valley High School and he was kept on for another eight months.
After some time, district administrators knew they wanted to keep Cote in the halls and brought him on board permanently.
Cote recalled in his early years when the district was consolidating and closing some of the smaller neighborhood schools in Adams, the school committee wanted to preserve the bell at the Commercial Street School – so they called on Cote.
"We had this chore to do … they wanted the bell out of the Commercial Street school but what a pain that was," he said. "We had to get a pulley and pull it down but we got it down safely."
Cote said the names of those who helped in the effort, including his, were put on the bell that is currently on display in Plunkett.
He served under five different superintendents: Rolland Duval, Bill McClaren, Bernie Fallon, Al Skrocki, Kristen Gordon, to now Robert Putnam, the current interim superintendent.
He said they were all a little different and recalled that Duval was somewhat of an avid cyclist.
"Mr. Duval was an athletic person and he liked to check on the guys at night so in the winter time he couldn't ride his bike outside," Stash said. "So he rode his 10-speed bike around the high school checking up on all of us. I heard 'Hi, how are you?' and he would be coming by on his bike."
Cote said in the 1980s, the district was hit with budget issues and made some changes. He was offered second shift at the high school or a position at Cheshire Elementary School. Cote took the latter and has been there ever since.
At Cheshire, he quickly became associated with orange Tic Tacs and was known to be well stocked for sugar-craving schoolchildren. He said this fact has transcended generations.
"A mother came in with her kids and she told them 'he's the guy that gives you the orange Tic Tacs," he said. "I guess a lot of kids remembered that."
News of Cote's candy supply become almost part of Cheshire Elementary history, to the point where it was expected.
"I have a system there and for the Rhythm and Rhyme nursery school I started cleaning up there around 2:30," he said. "I'd walk up the stairs and the kids would … wait out in their little chairs and as soon as I would come up the stairs there they were. They would say 'Here comes Stash,' so I would bring them some candy to put a smile on their faces."
A poem presented to Cote by the preschool at Cheshire Elementary.
The preschoolers wrote Cote a poem that was given to him on his last day that depicted this.
Cote said he always felt the job went beyond making sure the school was in tip-top shape and that putting a smile on a childrens' faces was just as important as mopping the floors.
"If a kid was sad or depressed sitting in the office, I used to try to go cheer them up there and put a smile on their face, that was a thing," he said. "Throughout the years, I'd wear funny shirts for the kids … I just wanted to make them laugh."
His favorite time of year was Christmas at the school.
"I had my Grinch shirts and Snoopy shirts and I walked around and stopped by classrooms with candy," he said. "Sometimes I'd stop and read them a story … There are a lot of nice memories there."
Cote said the children and faculty even managed to crack him up at times as he recalled a Halloween the '90s.
"One year, everyone put mustaches on and an orange hat and a dust mop they were all Stash," he said. "They were all dressed up as me."
Students and faculty always saw Cote as a member of the school district family and a school party was never a true party without him.
"Sometimes they would have a birthday party and they would invite me up and give me a cupcake," he said. "All of their parties the kids had in the classroom they always invited me up for ice cream or cake. I very much enjoyed it."
Cote, who has seen generations of families in the halls over his 39 years, has become somewhat of a celebrity among students and alumni. He said it is hard to go anywhere without running into a former student or a present one.
He said this happened a few weekends ago.
"I was going to see a movie and a bunch of kids were going to the movies with their moms and they saw me and all ran over," Cote said. "They wanted to know if I was going to watch the movie with them … They always seem to remember me."
Some students may owe Cote more than a cupcake — he always made it a point to leave the school doors open until 7 for some of the more forgetful students.
"I would leave the door open just in case someone forgot their homework," he said. "Their folks would drop them off and they would come find me and I'd help them get their homework."
And he always was willing to help if he could and recalled one sixth-grader who ran into some trouble.
"He threw some rocks at the car there … and he had to do community service. ... The principal asked me to take care of him and bring him along for some work," Cote said. "We spent some time together, ate outside and what not and he still remembers me to this day. I actually just took some trees down for him."
Cote's kindness extended to the House of Corrections inmates who came to the school during the summer to help him get ready for the school year.
"We grilled hamburgs and hot dogs for the inmates … and at the last day we had a pizza party," he said. "Some of the stuff they eat this wasn't so good but they always looked forward to coming to Cheshire."
Cote said the students and faculty also brought him through some tough times. He spent nearly five years with braces on his legs, eventually getting his knees replaced in his mid-50s, and spent some time out of work recovering.
"The kids at the school in each class wrote me all cards and gave them to me every week to make sure I hurried up and came back," he said. "It was the nicest thing to see because I was home wondering if I was going to be able to come back but I kept reading those cards it was inspiration to overcome."
Cote said even after the school day ended and he was making his final rounds through the quiet halls, his last day continued to be special.
"Selectman Joe Nowak, my old basketball coach, came down at 5 with Denis Pinsonnault with their mops," he said. "They brought me an iced coffee and a doughnut and Joe said 'don't clean, I am going to do it for you.'"
Cote said he plans to stay busy and continue taking down trees with his business Stash-N-Dah-Boyz Tree Service. He also plans to continue as president of the Maple Grove Civic Club so he can keep his focus on helping the youth of the community.
Students and faculty saddened by Cote's departure need not worry too much because Cote said he plans to visit quite often. In fact, he said he has already been back to visit three times after his retirement.
He said he will deeply miss the school, the faculty and the children. But he has 39 years worth of cherished memories that never fail to bring a smile to his face.
"I am going to miss everyone, the kids and the teachers. I am going to miss them very much," Cote said. "But I have a lot of good memories there and it has been an honor."
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