Dana Kjome
Dana Kjome
How do you say goodbye after 50 years? Ask Dana Kjome, who retired last month as maintenance supervisor of Spring Grove's Public Schools (SGPS), which serves kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

"That building is kind of like a living, breathing thing," Kjome said last week, "I could sense when the building wasn't right."

"If you add the 13 years of education I had there to the 37-1/2 years that I served as a custodian, it's 50 years," he noted. "I'm 60 years old, so there's only 10 years when that building wasn't a part of my life."

Family and friends are preparing to celebrate Dana's retirement at an open house on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Spring Grove Legion, from 2 to 5 p.m. The public is invited.

"I feel proud of the condition of that school," Kjome said, "Proud to have been a part of taking care of it. I just feel like we've got a great facility."

"Spring Grove Schools started out in 1922. It has been added on to at various times. I was part of two building additions in 1988 and 2000. I did a lot of work with the builders, taking care of change orders and making sure that things went in the way we'd like to see. I also helped to install three different playgrounds."

"I'm not the only one who has looked out for the school. I always had a good superintendent to work for, and we had good school board members who always made sure that we were taking care of our building.

"We made our school totally handicapped-accessible. The HVAC has also been updated greatly. I guess I feel like I left the building better than I found it."

A good janitor has good senses, Kjome added. "When I arrived in the morning, I could smell if a pilot light was out downstairs. I could hear if a bearing was going bad... If there was a temperature problem in a room or a light was out, I knew right away. I knew all the nooks and crannies. I felt like I had ownership in it.

"When I was in ninth grade, my dad bought a house only three lots away. I bought it from my dad when he moved away.

"After I went to work at the school, the last thing I did each night before I went to sleep was to pull the shade open in my bedroom. I'd look over at the building, and if I could see smoke coming out of the stack, then I'd sleep OK."

Back then the school was heated with one large boiler. Kjome slept a little better after a dual-boiler system was installed so that if one unit went out the other would start.

"I'll miss the kids most of all," Kjome said with a smile when he thought about his retirement. "The thing I'll miss least is cleaning up vomit. I hope I never see that again!

"The kids really made my job. They're so genuine. Sometimes they'd come up and give you a hug. Our kids in Spring Grove are A-1, well-behaved youngsters."

Some students took to calling Kjome "Mr. Fix-it." He not only kept the school clean, set up for lunch and sporting events and got up at 4:30 a.m. to shovel snow; he had an intimate knowledge of the boiler and could get a lot of finicky equipment up and running.

Copy-machine out of order? Call the janitor.

"Back in the '80s a lot of schools were having problems with their copiers," he recalled. "In 1986, I went to Alexandria, Va., to learn how to fix Xerox copy machines. The company decided to start a program called ACT (advanced customer training). They sent us to a week of instruction. From 1986 till about 2000 whenever we had a problem with our copier, if it needed to have parts replaced or whatever, I'd do that. It probably saved the school a lot of money.

"About 3 or 4 years after the training session, the Xerox tech guy came in and told me, 'You're the only one left in southeast Minnesota who is still doing anything with this.'"

A lot can happen in 50 years.

When sixth-grader Kjome went home for lunch one day, he heard of the JFK assassination. The youngster ran back to school to tell his teacher.

Something similar happened when he heard about 9/11 as a custodian. The Challenger Disaster also came to his attention before anyone at school heard about it.

"It just seems like I was the crier to the school... It just happened like that."

Other occurrences were a little bizarre.

"One night in 2008, I was home, and they called me about 10 p.m. The coaches had come back from a ball game and found the door glass on the north side lobby busted. Glass was all over. I went over and started to review the video recording, thinking 'What kid did this?'

"I saw a 10-point buck come up and walk by the door. It sees its reflection in the glass and must have thought it was another buck... He turned around and kicked the heck out of it with his back hooves!"

"I retired on Dec. 21... The last few days, it seemed like the school didn't want to give up on me too easily," Kjome noted.

"Three days before I left I got a call at around 2 a.m. from our custom alarm company. There was a freezer that had gone out, so I had to run right over and get everything out of the unit before it thawed. I was at school from 2 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"The next day, it snowed about 6 inches, so we had to run over early to clean off all the sidewalks.

"The following day the boiler went out."

All good things must come to an end. "I just felt that it was time to do something different," Kjome said.

"Some folks encouraged me to do that (run for county board). I am a people person. Now, I'm going to try to do some things for more people."

Kjome was elected in November as the District 5 County Commissioner to the Houston County Board, replacing Tom Bjerke. He took office Jan. 7.

Heading to Caledonia for a board meeting, Kjome realized a remarkable fact, "All of a sudden it hit me, this is the first time I've been able to drive to work in 38 years."