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Extending a reliable smile

Lead custodian Joe Salas goes above and beyond expectations

Lead+custodian+Joe+Salas+cleans+up+after+lunch+on+Wednesday%2C+April+19.+
Lead custodian Joe Salas cleans up after lunch on Wednesday, April 19.

Lead custodian Joe Salas cleans up after lunch on Wednesday, April 19.

Photo by Jayden Warren

Photo by Jayden Warren

Lead custodian Joe Salas cleans up after lunch on Wednesday, April 19.

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About two hours before the first school bell rings, silence in the hallway still lingers from the night before. The only remnants of life comes from the few rustling sounds the janitorial staff make. Among those multiples of feet making their way around the school is one pair that belongs to a man who makes an impact that goes further than just clean tables and empty trash cans.

They belong to a man who flashes a smile at anyone and everyone no matter the time of day. They belong to lead custodian Joe Salas.

“I like it here,” Salas said. “Especially [the students], they keep me young. I like to be around and work.”

Every day Salas arrives at the school early in the morning and stays until he feels as if his duties have been fulfilled.

“He goes above and beyond what he’s really required to do,” assistant principal Stephanie Gore said. “This is kind of his home away from home, you know he impacts us. He makes a big difference. If we didn’t have Joe we would have a lot of events that wouldn’t go off as smoothly as they do.”

At 12 years old, Salas and his family made the journey from Mexico to America. Quickly he was placed into sixth grade at Delay Middle School, but almost immediately he surpassed seventh and eighth grade and went straight into high school.

“I had a good chance to go to college but I didn’t want to go because I had good jobs and a lot of work,” Salas said.

Periodically throughout the day, Salas can be found sharing jokes and whole-body shaking laughs with students around cafeteria tables. Or he can be found happily fulfilling his duties and motivating his team to finish theirs as well.

“I’ve always been like this my whole life,” Salas said. “I guess I was the clown of the family,  [they would say] ‘you’re different’ [because] I always made them laugh.”

His smile is known all around the school and if somebody doesn’t know Salas’ name, they know his smile. But he leaves a lasting impression with his co-workers, making sure everybody is safe and happy.

“I know that if Joe is the only one here, Joe could run this school,” principal Jeffrey Kajs said. “He would know what to do and how to do it and how to take care of any issue that we have. That’s huge for a principal or administrator to know, that there is somebody here that knows what to do when all heck breaks loose.”

Administration and kids alike know he will always be there to assist them with any problems or tasks they need help with. Because of his success, he is one of three finalists for LISD’s custodial services employee of the year.

“Joe is just a solid rock,” Kajs said. “You know how sometimes in your life you can always just rely on something that’s always going to be there? That’s Joe. Joe is a constant.”

His relationship with students is unlike any other; he pays attention to their needs and wants. But he always pushes them to succeed and achieve an ever-friendly happiness like the one he has. Being an alumni himself, he knows how the school functions and the new and old traditions that have formed the school.

“He treats every kid as if it was his own child,” Gore said. “He’s going to make sure whatever he expects [of] his own child, that’s what he expects of the kids. He’s proud of them and I think that’s what makes him awesome.”

On numerous occasions Salas has been offered a supervisor position but has turned each one down so he could still be inside the school working with students and teachers. His reasoning for staying is because he’s happy to work at a place where he’s getting his hands dirty and physically contributing to the school. But behind the hardworking man is a loving family who supports him; he comes from humble beginnings and lives a humble life.

“[My wife and I] have been married for 35 years, we met through a friend,” Salas said. “Family means a lot, everything.”

Even through horrific nightmares of cleaning up bathroom messes and gut-bubbling throw up, Salas still manages to keep a smile on his face. Throughout all of the late-night events and students who leave messes that should only be made by animals, he still carries a sense of pride for his school.

After he told Josten’s that his senior class ring from when he graduated in 1977 had been stolen, the company decided to provide him with a new one free of charge.

“I thought that was really great to see Joe happy, not because he’s doing something for somebody else, but to see Joe happy because something was done for him,” Kajs said.

Whether it be his smile, likability or the amount of care he puts into the school, each person in the building knows his name and the impact he makes.

“I’m just a regular guy,” Salas said. “[I want to leave a] good impression. I’m not going to say ‘I’m the best custodian,’ but I am the best friend of [the students].”

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “Extending a reliable smile”

  1. Adam T on April 25th, 2017 11:09 PM

    Joe deserves this recognition! I’ve known him for over 30 years and he was one of my grandmother’s really good friends. She would always talk highly of him and his ways of making people around him feel loved, welcomed, and important.

    In her later years and having polio, she needed help caring for her land in Flower Mound. Us, grandchildren did what we could but being so young we were limited on what we could do, however she could count on this loving soul to help her with the hardest of chores. She loved the whole Salas family, but Joe was definitely her favorite. I miss her and wish she could see this great achievement he has worked so hard to earn. I know she would be so happy for him. May God bless this beautiful man!

    [Reply]

  2. Robert Benson on April 28th, 2017 7:45 AM

    One of the nicest people in the world! Grateful to call him my tio but also my friend. I love him so much! My favorite person ever!

    [Reply]

    BIG JON Reply:

    I used to talk to him every now and then after lunch. He is a nice guy, I never saw him slacking unlike some of the other stuff . He was always doing his job and doing his job right and then some .

    [Reply]

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Extending a reliable smile