Friends remember late Wood School custodian

Friends remember late Wood School custodian

Janice Worthen

Frank Munoz wants to keep the memory of his good friend, the late Wood Middle School custodian Paul Parker, alive. Photo by Janice Worthen.

Every Friday, the staff at Wood Middle School in Alameda wear blue “Happy Friday” pins in honor of Paul Hardy Parker, a custodian at Wood Middle School who passed away this past July. Parker worked for the Alameda Unified School District for 24 years, and for those who knew him, he was more than a dedicated custodian; he was a loyal friend and mentor who went out of his way to make others happy.

For Kai Dwyer, a counselor at Wood, Parker was the first person she saw every day, and he was the first person to acknowledge Dwyer’s Black Panther and Martin Luther King Jr. photos. Parker told Dwyer about the effect King’s assassination had on him as a boy, and Dwyer says this sharing of memories created a bond between them.

“I took comfort in knowing Paul was literally ‘in it’ with me,” Dwyer said. “That is what I miss most about Paul … seeing his face, his often blue shirt and hearing his voice as I start my day.”

Jeannette Frechou, a science and Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project teacher at Wood, said Parker helped with the school’s weekly three stream recycling program and yearly locker clean out/reuse/recycle, and contributed to the Wood SLWRP county team to “make Wood a leader in our district/community recycling effort in the (school) year 2011-2012.”

“We were one of the first schools in our community to do a locker recycling and reuse; now Lincoln and other schools have taken on the challenge. We could not have done it so smoothly without custodians like Paul,” Frechou said. “Paul provided encouragement to kids when they showed effort to recycle and pick up trash.”

Frank Munoz, head custodian at Franklin Elementary School and one of Parker’s best friends, said that Parker always wanted to serve his country and community. Parker was in ROTC at Alameda High School and completed a four-year tour in the U.S. Air Force before working for Alameda Unified, where he seemed to make it his mission to brighten the day of staff and students, Munoz said.

“He cared about people a lot,” Munoz said. “He was the type of guy that could pick up your spirits if you were having a down day. If you needed to phone a friend, he was the one person you could call. He would just show up to help.”

Munoz said Parker was well respected by other custodians, school staff, and students. He would interact with students while he worked and often spent his lunch talking with and reading to special education students. If Parker saw a student he knew outside of work, he would stop whatever he was doing to talk to that student.

“He was very accepting,” Munoz said. “He was genuine.”

Munoz said Parker loved music and was “the biggest Beatles fan” as well as the go-to guy for Beatles trivia. Once, Munoz called Parker to ask him what the birth order of the Beatles was, and Parker knew it off the top of his head. Munoz remembers spending evenings talking with Parker and “blasting records” together. He keeps a photo of Parker on his radio to remind him of the good times.

“Paul read a lot. He was well versed in everything. If you didn’t know he was a custodian, you’d never know. He never bragged or flaunted,” Munoz said.

When Paul’s brother, Bruce, asked Munoz what he wanted from Paul’s estate, Munoz said that he wanted to take care of Paul’s things. So Paul’s mother, Louise, and Bruce gave him Paul’s large collection of records, school yearbooks, and the bike people often saw Parker riding around Alameda to thank Munoz for all his help following Paul’s passing.

Munoz also inherited the original “Happy Friday” pin given to Parker by Monica Beah, office manager at Wood. Munoz said he wants to keep Parker’s memory alive not only by wearing his pin but by incorporating Parker’s patience and positive attitude into his daily life. He wants everyone to know how much Parker contributed to his school and his community and the lives he touched with his caring nature and sense of humor.

Munoz helped Parker’s family plan his funeral, what Munoz prefers calling Parker’s “celebration of life.” One of the elements of this planning was to ask the community to donate to the Alameda Education Foundation, Boy Scout Troop 2, or other organizations in Parker’s name instead of sending flowers because, Munoz believes, this is what Parker would have liked.

Munoz hopes that Paul Parker’s life and contribution to his community will inspire others to volunteer their time and donate money to worthy organizations as they are able.

“Paul wouldn’t ask for a lot, but if you asked him for something, he would never say no,” Munoz said. “I try to apply Paul’s attitude in my own life.”