Pine-Richland pupils honor a friend

Pine-Richland pupils honor a friend

Sunday, March 04, 2007
By Doug Oster
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



The lobby of Hance Elementary School is filled with youngsters sporting moustaches, even the girls.




They're also wearing green Pine-Richland shirts and jeans, the traditional work attire of their favorite head custodian, Harry Daniels. A few kids even went for the key ring on the belt.

All of them gather around Mr. Daniels to hug him and pose for pictures.

Monday was Harry Day at the school in celebration of Mr. Daniels' 30 years of working in the district, the last 17 at Hance.

Each one of the 600-plus pupils signed a card for him and there was a multitude of gifts, too. The culmination of the day had the office staff singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" over the school's intercom.

"He's like a big brother to everybody," said Tomi Karpuzi, 11.

For three decades, Mr. Daniels has made children feel special. He started his Harry's Helpers program when he was 22 at Wexford Elementary, the first school where he worked.

The program continues today as pupils work with him to clean tables and sweep the lunch room floor. "I think that helps the kids learn a responsibility," he said. "When they sign up, they have to do it all week." At the end of the week, the helpers get a treat, such as a Popsicle, and are recognized at a party at the end of the school year.

Over the years, Mr. Daniels, of Ross, who is married and has six children, has made an impact on many young lives.

As third-graders 30 years ago, Tim Spontak, Larry Smith and Lonnie Yobst were some of the first of Harry's Helpers, and the three have remained good friends all this time.

Children connect to Mr. Daniels, said Mr. Smith, of Reserve. And he thinks he knows why.

"Harry never grew up," he said with a laugh. "He's a kid at heart."

Mr. Daniels took them hunting and fishing, interests they share to this day, and he was a member of Mr. Smith's wedding party.

There's one story from elementary school the three love to tell.

"We used to go in the bathroom every morning and open the paper towel holder up, and we'd push the false ceiling up and hide the towels," Mr. Smith recalled. The principal would then point out to Mr. Daniels that there were no paper towels in the restroom.

"It was driving him nuts," Mr. Yobst said of Mr. Daniels. "Then we got caught."

Mr. Yobst, of Saxonburg, remembered other good times, too. "We used to help him clean the auditorium, and he'd get us extra cookies and milk."

Mr. Daniels values the friendships forged so many years ago. "It's amazing to have friends that last that long. I'd do anything in the world for them."

In addition to being head custodian, Mr. Daniels runs the after-school intramural program at Hance. For an hour, he supervises basketball and dodge ball, and he has been known to play a mean game of kickball with the kids, according to Jordan Hightown, 10. "He always kicks the home runs. I've lost count how many and he hardly ever yells," she said.

It's that connection with the youngsters that fifth-grade teacher Donna Faux believes has made a difference at the school.

"I truly believe the kids are more responsible because they know if they make a mess somewhere, whose job is it going to be to clean up? Harry's. Well, we have a lot of respect for Harry, so we're not going to make things more difficult for him. And they respect the school more because of it."

On Harry Day, Noah Davidson, 7, walked into the office and told school secretary Sue Spakauskas that he had something he needed to tell the entire school. After he told her what he wanted to say, she prepared the intercom system for him.

"I just thought of an idea," he said to the student body. "Since it's Harry Day, instead of him cleaning up messes, we can just help him. So if you see any messes that Harry might be able to clean up, don't forget to help him clean it up. Thank you."

That's the sort of gesture from the pupils that Mr. Daniels treasures.

"You know what makes me happy? It's when the kids notice you and say hi to you. Everyday they do it. They say, 'Hi, Harry.' That's very special to me."

First published on March 4, 2007 at 12:00 am

Doug Oster can be reached at or 724-772-9177.