Monday, July 7, 2008

Fred Blue
(18 Aug 1931 - 21 Dec 1990)

by Rocky Macy

If ever there was a person whose identity was defined by his workplace, that person was Fred Blue. Fred was as much a part of the Noel School as any book in the library, any desk in a classroom, or any trophy in the trophy case. He was as hard and noisy as the ancient radiators that warmed the school, and yet, had a heart that was pure marshmallow.

Fred was a bus driver who couldn’t be rattled by the shenanigans of any student, or any parent for that matter. He was the school’s ubiquitous custodian who was everywhere doing everything. If it was snowing - Fred was outside spreading salt, if some kid got sick - Fred was throwing kitty litter in the vomit and sweeping it up, and when the roof sprang a leak – Fred was Johnny-on-the-spot with a bucket. If it needed painting, trimming, cleaning, mopping, repairing, mowing, thrown away, or just a good old-fashioned cussing, Fred was there!

Fred Blue could be loud and demanding. If he set his sights on getting something done, it happened. When he wanted a blade for the school’s riding lawnmower so that he could push the snow off of the school’s sidewalks, and didn’t have the time or the patience to get one through normal channels, he simply went out and bought one himself – with his own money.

And Fred Blue could be quietly effective behind the scenes. When a young boy was falling behind on his lunch bill because of problems at home, Fred quietly stepped in and paid the balance. No kid would suffer needlessly at Fred’s Place.

I came to the Noel School, a K-8 elementary/junior high, from a large rural high school. The bulletin boards in high schools are often used for posting bulletins, and I suffered under the delusion that it would work that way in an elementary school too. But bulletin boards in elementary schools are for decorating, and before I could ever get anything posted, some do-gooder teacher would have the board dressed up for Columbus Day or Christmas or Easter. One November I had something that needed posting. After finding every bulletin board at the Noel School covered with Pilgrims and turkeys, I approached Fred and asked him (smart people rarely told Fred anything, they always “asked”) if he would please put up a bulletin board outside of my office for my personal use. Less than an hour later as I was walking down the hall, I noticed that he had the new bulletin board up. He had even gone to the trouble of covering it with turkeys for me!

Another pure Fred incident that I remember involved a certain teacher who liked to rearrange her classroom monthly, an event that Fred dreaded because she always asked him to move her large, wooden teacher’s desk. (Fred implied to anyone that would listen that the thought this monthly event had something to do with the teacher’s biology!) After several months of lugging the teacher’s desk around, he came up with a solution. When the teacher reported for work the next morning she discovered that Fred had attached wheels to her desk!

Fred had a very small circuit that ran from his house, to the school, and occasionally to the town’s hardware store when he needed to buy something for the school. He was the first person at the school every morning, making sure that the boiler was working and the radiators were warming the classrooms. Then he would drive his bus route, spend the day cleaning and making repairs, and drive his evening bus route. If there was a ball game at night, Fred would be there late sweeping up popcorn bags and soft drink cups.

Neosho, Missouri, is about twenty miles north of Noel. One evening I convinced Fred to go to Neosho with me so that he could help pick out the ceiling fans that our booster club was purchasing for the classrooms. As we made our way through Wal-Mart, a place that was a second home to most people in Noel, I noticed that Fred seemed fascinated with everything. When I mentioned that to him, he said that he hadn’t been to the Neosho or to Wal-Mart in many years. If it wasn’t at the school, at his home, or in the hardware store, Fred just didn’t have any use for it!

Fred’s wife had passed away several years earlier, and he had a live-in girlfriend who eventually came to work with him at the school. When Fred needed TLC, it was provided by Leatha. He certainly would never spend any of his energy taking care of himself – not when the school needed him. He and Leatha married shortly before his death. Fred also had two grown daughters, both of whom had gone on to become teachers.

Fred Blue was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I left the Noel School. He was cantankerous to the end, and he stayed on the job as long as he was able. I managed to make it out to his house several times during his last few weeks, and always found him cussing and going on about things that really weren’t important in the grand scheme of things. When Fred died I knew that I had lost one of the best friends that I would ever have.

The Noel School was more than a job for Fred, it was the major focus of his life. And Fred, in turn, was a major force in the life of that little school. They had a symbiotic relationship, each dependent on the other for definition and survival.

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