Noel Daniel Imel will walk the hallways at Kemper Elementary on the first day of classes tomorrow, but it will be his last first day of school.
“I’ve learned a lot from this job, even from the kids and the teachers,” he said. “It’s been a good job. I’ve really liked it.”
Affectionately referred to by students and teachers as Mr. Dan, Imel said he is going to miss coming to school every day when he retires as the schoolhouse custodian on Oct. 31, just a few weeks after celebrating his 66th birthday.
“It’s been a good experience,” he said last week as he was making last-minute preparations for the first day of school. “It keeps you really honest.”
Throughout his 31-year career, Imel said he has encountered many untidy issues, some which made him think, “Boy, I’ve never done this before.”
“There’s been a lot of things I’ve had to clean up over the years, and at times I didn’t want to,” he admitted. “It’s beyond your imagination some of the things you encounter with this job, but it didn’t really bother me too much.”
Imel was publicly recognized for his faithful service to the school district at a “Back to School Celebration” last week. Superintendent Alex Carter described him as a quiet but incredible man who has touched the lives of so many in the community.
“People tell me all the time that Mr. Dan was their favorite teacher, and he’s a custodian,” Carter said. “That’s powerful, and exciting.”
Although the building was constructed in the 1950s, Kemper Elementary’s floors are so clean that someone could eat off them, Carter said in reflecting on Imel’s dedication.
“We don’t thank him as much as we should,” he added. “But he’s the kind of man that doesn’t do it for the recognition. He does it for those kids. He’s really special.”
The excitement of returning to school, felt mainly by students and teachers, has also rubbed off on Imel over the years, saying it helps to keep him young. And if he had the chance to enter a classroom to give students a lesson, Imel said he would simply instruct his class to be honest, do your best and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.
“The kids, they look up to me,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”
At the end of every school year, Imel said he especially treasures the handwritten notes from students expressing their gratitude.
“I’m going to miss them,” he said.
Despite the sadness of leaving, Imel looks forward to starting a new chapter in his life. He and his wife, Mary, who have been married 32 years, are planning to travel and do things one normally doesn’t do on workdays, he said.
“I’m going to finish the projects that I got started and never finished,” he added.
Imel went to work as a custodian at Kemper Elementary in June 1982.
Congratulations, Mr. Dan.