Close to cleaning up: 2 Cincinnati school custodians make the finals in Janitor of the Year contest

CINCINNATI - Two local custodians came close to cleaning up this year--in the national Janitor of the Year Contest, sponsored by Cintas Corporation.

Both Grady Harris of Hilltop Elementary School in Wyoming, and Mike Woodruff of Archbishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati reached the finals.

"We received over 100,000 votes and nominations within the first couple of days of the announcement and the contest going out to the whole U.S.,” said Jillian Bauer of the Cintas Facility Services marketing team. “The two local schools in the Cincinnati area really did a great job of rallying their community behind their janitor.”

A winner in Wyoming's eyes
Harris placed second in the contest, with top honors going to Patrick Peterson of Reno, Nev. After 23 years at Hilltop Elementary, Harris is known for his uncanny ability to remember the names of every parent, teacher and child from the school.
"It's really kind of hard to forget your friends,” he said. Harris said he loves his job for many reasons: the teachers, the administrators, the parents, and the children. He had no idea about the Janitor of the Year nomination until children started telling him he earned their vote.
“Kids in kindergarten through fourth grade... They’re totally honest, full of fun, and you’re guaranteed a smile or laugh each and every day that you come to work,” he said.

In addition to his custodial duties, Harris works as a crossing guard before and after school and is often the first person the children see when they arrive and the last to see as they head home. Harris explained he found it  touching after coming back from Thanksgiving break  to find the streets, sidewalks and parking lot filled with well wishes written in chalk by the children.

“As I’ve been saying the whole time, I truly feel like I’ve already won because of all the things that have happened leading up to this, it’s been great,” Harris said.

After hearing the contest advertised on the radio, Hilltop Elementary third grade teacher Brian Pitman submitted his nomination of Harris. He considers Harris an ambassador for Wyoming City Schools, and said Harris has never missed a day of work in his 23 years of service.

“He’s already a celebrity,” he said. “Everybody knows Grady. Or should I say, Grady knows everybody. He knows every kid who’s been here for the last 20 years.”

Hard work doesn't go unnoticed

Cintas sponsored the contest to recognize those who make schools a cleaner, safer and healthier environment.

As finalists, Harris and Woodruff will each receive more than $1,000 in supplies for their schools from Rubbermaid Commercial Products and $250 in gift certificates from Cintas. 

Sorting through the pile of submissions to select 10 finalists was a difficult process, Bauer said. Cintas based its decision on number of nominations for each candidate and the stories they received from children, school co-workers and parents.

The process next went online, allowing everyone to vote for their favorite candidate, with Peterson receiving the greatest amount. Due to the overwhelming response, Bauer said the company plans to make the competition an annual event.

“We created the contest because we wanted to honor those who kept schools and classrooms safe year around,” she said. “We really thought that the janitors were vital part of schools and the community, so we don’t want their hard work and time to go unnoticed.”

A high school hero

Like Harris, Woodruff is also marking his 23rd year on the job. And like Harris, the he was taken by surprise to hear of the nomination.

“One of the teachers who nominated me actually came in that morning and told me she was going to do it,” he said. “I was actually embarrassed when she said it, because I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before.”

McNicholas intervention specialist Valerie Combs said she jumped at the chance to nominate Woodruff after hearing about the contest on the radio. She said the faculty and staff rallied around their beloved janitor, submitting votes and accolades. She said Woodruff is kind, hard-working, friendly and always has positive attitude.

“You know you can count on him, you know you can rely on him and you know he’s going to do it with a smile,” Combs said. “When I wrote my nomination for him, I included his classic line: 'Good morning, sunshine." That’s what he says to whoever he sees. He just makes your day a little brighter.”

Woodruff said he still loves his job because of the people he encounters every day, including teachers, staff and students who are “absolutely wonderful.” 

In addition to his normal duties, Woodruff lends a hand where needed, whether it’s jump-starting cars in the parking lot or helping repair items around the school. He explained the janitors and maintenance people are most familiar with the building and the grounds. After more than 20 years, he said he’s actually seeing former students enrolling their children at the school.


see parents and they’ll say, 'Oh yeah, when I went to school here you were here,'” he said. “Really? That was 20 years ago. I guess I’ve been here a long time.”


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