Showing appreciation: Tree at Matthews Elementary will serve as reminder of custodian's long-time presence

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

MATTHEWS, Mo. -- Havis White was back at Matthews Elementary School Monday afternoon.

This time, however, White wasn't returning to resume the custodial duties he filled for nearly two decades, instead it was an opportunity for the youngsters and staff to show their appreciation for his tireless efforts.

Outside the school, the youngsters in preschool through fifth grade gathered in the sunshine before a newly planted oak tree. Principal Angie Hanlin explained the tree was planted to honor White, who served as the school's custodian from September 1998 until his retirement last November, and in memory of his late wife, who was employed by the school district from 1995 to 2005.

"This tree will take root and continue to grow and someday provide shade to this school yard. Its leaves will turn colors in the fall and the cycle will repeat itself each year. This tree will always be a reminder of the time and presence of Mr. Havis and Mrs. Phyllis," Hanlin said.

According to Hanlin, White's efforts went far beyond his custodial duties of mopping floors or cleaning windows. She recalled he always had a smile and a hug for students and staff alike and even when battling cancer, he sought to give his best.

"For many years, he served part-time hours, but never gave part-time energy or heart," Hanlin told the children. "Matthews Elementary is better for having him here and we are better for knowing him."

Don Philips, who recently retired as the Matthews principal, said White took ownership in his job as Matthews Elementary school's custodian.

"He felt like this was his building. He felt really responsible for it, making sure that everything was the very best that it could be," Phillips said. "I never had to ask him to do anything, he always just took initiative and did things on his own."

Staff member Jason Schuerenberg said he appreciated White's kindness, describing him as "big-hearted."

That big heart was evident as White watched the children and his eyes teared up.

He said he has two special memories of his work at Matthews Elementary: "Just high-fiving all the kids and loving the teachers."

The sentiment was felt by the youngsters as well as they shouted out to White in unison: "Thank you. We love you."