Today’s guest post is by Abby Fendler, a former student at Metairie Park Country Day School. Earlier this week, Ronnie Frazier, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, unexpectedly passed away, shocking the entire MPCDS community. While Ronnie wasn’t officially a teacher, he sure did mentor a lot of people. That man touched lives. My condolences to Ronnie’s wife, Rubie – whom Ronnie adored.
How many people can say that their school janitor was – without a doubt – one of their best friends, heroes, and idols of all time? Rest assured, thousands of students, graduates, faculty and parents of Metairie Park Country Day School in Louisiana, can.
Born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1957, in a town of 5,000 people, Ronnie had an English teacher aunt who stressed the importance of reading. As a result, Ronnie grew up articulate, politically acute, and knowledgeable. The day after he graduated from high school, he joined the army and, after his stint, he came to New Orleans looking for work.
“There weren’t many jobs available,” he said, “so I took a part-time job working in a grocery store warehouse, but I wanted to get into management training.” Although there were many stumbling blocks to his being admitted into the program, he persevered and eventually became assistant manager. Only then did he discover that the job did not pay a livable wage. Through a friend, Ronnie heard about a position with benefits and the possibility for career advancement at a well-known private school in the city, Metairie Park Country Day. “I felt that I’d found what I was looking for. In the past, I had only held jobs for short stretches of time, but at MPCDS, I felt like I could be happy,” Ronnie said.
Ronnie’s official job title was “Building and Grounds Supervisor” of the Metairie Park Country Day School in Louisiana, but Ronnie was also the head of maintenance, a bus driver, a woodworker, and a do-anything-and-everything-man-for-anyone-and-everyone on campus guy; in actuality, he was every student’s greatest hero – a real life “Superman.”
Graduate Traci Berger said, “Not one student at Country Day thought of Ronnie as ‘just the janitor’; he was like every student’s unofficial psychiatrist, funny uncle, favorite teacher, and best friend all wrapped up in one enormous, smiling package.” To the people who knew Ronnie, he was not merely a maintenance man; he was a fixture of the community, the real heart and soul of Metairie Park Country Day School.
An imposing figure at six feet five inches tall, dark, muscular and two hundred twenty-five pounds, Ronnie was a commanding presence at the school. Mallory Bohn, a thirteen year veteran of Country Day, remembers her first encounter with Ronnie Frazier as a kindergartener and new student:
I remember carrying my new “Barbie and Ken” lunchbox and an empty “My Little Pony” book bag, and from what I remember there was no one around to help me, but just as that first tear rolled down my cheek, Ronnie appeared from out of nowhere with this gigantic, welcoming smile. He’s was always around, to high-five when you were up and to commiserate and help when you were down.
Every faculty member and student has a fond memory of Ronnie Frazier. In 2004, graduating class president, Ben Fendler read these words in his speech. “I learned many things at my school – Math, Science and English – but the real lessons of life were those that I learned from watching Ronnie Frazier. He works hard without whining or complaining; he never quits. He’s a confidant, but not a snitch. He shines at a job that many would consider beneath them, and makes it all worthwhile and even enviable. Ronnie says that to succeed in his job requires diplomacy, flexibility and level-headedness, and that the kids make this easy for him because of all of their energy and inherent goodness. Although I think all of you would agree with me that it is not the children but Ronnie’s own character that accounts for his success.”
Ronnie worked at Country Day for 20 years. He once said being a member of the Country Day community was “like a vacation” because he was able to make a good living and get to watch wonderful kids grow up. “I get to drive them around, watch them play their [sports] and get paid for it. And, at the end of the day, I get to go home and know that I may have helped a student… That makes me so thankful.” Ronnie said. “I may not have the highest paying job in the world, but nothing is as rewarding as knowing that a child looks up to me and that, in his or her eyes, what I have to say really does make a difference.”
Does anyone recall having a bond with a person who worked at a school? Not a teacher but someone else who made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear your story.
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