Earl Breckenridge has retired after 32 years working as a custodian with the Algoma District School Board.
In a celebration held Wednesday at H.M. Robbins School, Breckenridge was lauded not just for decades of hard work, but also for the positive influence he has had on thousands of students over the years.
“He is the definition of what a caretaker is — he takes care of everybody," said Natasha Court, principal of H.M. Robbins School. "He knows everybody, he has a connection to everybody who walks through these doors and knows the name of their spouse, their kids, their pets. He is just one of the most amazing people I have ever met in my entire life."
Breckenridge spent the last nine years working at H.M. Robbins, but also worked at Superior Heights, White Pines, Parkland and some long-closed schools like Collegiate Heights and the Dunn.
“I have mixed emotions. I am going to miss these kids, I am going to miss my friends. I loved working here," Breckenridge told SooToday.
An entire day of events was planned around Breckenridge's final shift, including a breakfast with current and former staff and the school's first all-class assembly in over two years for the kids to say goodbye. The White Pines group The Pine Tones played a few songs, including In My Life by one of Breckenridge's favourite bands — The Beatles.
Some kids told Breckenridge during the assembly how much fun it was to jump over his broom when he swept and when he would ask then to help him clean the school.
Special guest Mario Turco, retired director of education for the board, came to the celebration to pay respect to Breckenridge for his service. Turco recalled an incident 10 years ago on the day before the then-newly-constructed Superior Heights C&VS was set to open its doors to students for the first time.
“The school was a mess. You couldn’t even go into the place. I don’t know how the builders and the people we hired to make sure it was ready for the first day of school could imagine that was acceptable,” said Turco during the assembly.
Turco said he called for a team to come in to get Superior Heights ship shape on short notice and on a holiday.
"The key guy was this man — Earl Breckenridge. He was the first guy on the job and he came and saw me and saw how distraught I was and he said ‘no worries, I got your back here. We will take care of this place and you won’t recognize it by the end of the day," recalled Turco.
Speaking to SooToday, Turco said Breckenridge has always risen to the occasion and been a great role model to everybody — students, staff and administrators alike.
“He exemplifies what education is about and how we all have to play a role, no matter what our role is we all have to contribute to the education of young people and to provide the best opportunities to them and Earl lives that,” said Turco.
For the final farewell on Wednesday, all of the 225 kids at H.M. Robbins school stood outside their respective classrooms to offer one last high five to the man they called Mr. B.
When kids at the school were required to wear masks and maintain physical distancing, one of the hardest parts was not being able to give Mr. B one of his signature high fives, said Court during the assembly.
Breckenridge laughed and cheered along as class after class got up to sing his praises or offer a dance routine in his honour. The Grade 5 class sent him home with a poster made up of cutouts of all of their hands so he could always give them a high five whenever he wanted.
"You guys are amazing students, amazing friends and the high fives are fantastic,” Breckenridge told the students. He promised he will still see them every day when he pick up his young granddaughter, who goes to the school.
In December, Breckenridge was featured during SooToday's 12 Days of Christmas Random Acts of Kindness in advance of his retirement and presented with gifts that included new fishing supplies. He told SooToday on Wednesday that he will be putting them to good use.
“I’m going to do some fishing and spending some time with my wife. I have worked a lot of years and I think it’s time to stay at home with her,” said Breckenridge.
On Wednesday, Court dedicated one of the main hallways in the school as 'Breckenridge Boulevard.' She told students during the assembly the plan is to have the sign hanging as long as the school is open in honour of Breckenridge and his positive contributions to it.
"He has helped me through some difficult times and cheered us on when we needed it," said Court. "He’s not just a caretaker, he is so much more than that."