MECHANIC FALLS — For 38 years Gary Purington got up at 4 in the morning, was at school by 5, and worked 10- to 12-hour days – often longer.

RSU 16 school maintenance director Gary Purington. Eriks Petersons photo

“Gary knows every inch of the elementary (school) buildings . . .  and that knowledge has been a labor of love for Gary,” said Mary Martin, former teacher and principal at Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls and chairwoman of the Regional School Unit board of directors.

Scott Penney, Public Works director for Mechanic Falls, added, “His whole life was the school. Seven days a week. Morning, noon, night, whatever.”

Purington, maintenance supervisor for RSU 16’s three elementary schools in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, is retiring Friday.

The man who spent most of his career at Elm Street School calls his time maintaining the schools “self-inflicted hours.” All those hours of dedication did not go unnoticed.

Purington said a teacher at Elm Street School approached him recently and said, “You’re the last of the icons at the school here.”

It stopped him in his tracks. “It’s very true, I have never thought that,” he said.

As a custodian-turned-maintenance supervisor, the last several years Purington has worked for five superintendents and nine building principals.

After being discharged from the military in the 1970s, Purington started working at Marcal Paper Mill in Mechanic Falls. “I wanted out of the mill … smartest move I ever did,” he said.

In 1980, Purington substituted as a school custodian and applied for a full-time position. In 1981, he was hired as the full-time custodian at the Water Street Elementary School in Mechanic Falls. Water Street School later closed and all kindergarten through ninth-grade students attended the newly expanded Elm Street School.

Purington worked under head custodian Charles Bouchles until 1986 when Bouchles retired after 27 years in the school system.

“Gary is one of those ‘whatever it takes’ people,” Martin said. She recounted some of what Purington did during the ice storm of 1998 when the school became a designated shelter:

“Gary was busy working with the town … the American Legion and emergency services making sure Elm Street School would be able to provide food, warmth and shelter to those who needed it,” she said. “It was Gary who was plowing all night … he shoveled the roof … he mowed the fields, crawled into disgusting places to make repairs and answered alarms at school at all hours of the night and during weekends.”

Purington coached baseball, basketball and soccer. “He also served as commander of the Legion (American Legion Post 150) for seven, eight years,” Penney said.

Purington was chief custodian at Elm Street School until six years ago, when he also took over duties at Minot Consolidated School. Soon after he began overseeing the maintenance of Poland Community School.

Purington said recently he enjoyed the duties and challenges that increasingly came with the job – from brooms to budgeting.

“Been a great job,” Purington said. “Never want to think I was great or better than anyone else here. … I’m hoping I made an impact with the kids. … I would hope people would think I have done a good job for the communities.

“One thing I always maintained is it’s never an ‘I’. If it is an ‘I’ then you’re doing something wrong.”