Armand Couillard, 59, graduated in 1984 from Oak Hill High School in Wales and has worked there for almost 32 years. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

WALES — He is a familiar face in the hallways and on the grounds at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Armand Couillard has been a custodian at the school for almost 32 years. And in this age of doing more with less, especially at area schools, his contributions go well beyond emptying trash cans and cleaning corridors.

“Thirty-one-and-a-half years and I’ve seen a lot,” Couillard said. “The first eight years, I didn’t see anybody. I worked third shift at the time.”

Couillard grew up across the street from the school. His father and three older brothers cleared the land by hand and built the house where they lived until about six years ago. His mother took care of them and two younger sisters.

“When this place was going up, this place caught on fire,” he said of Oak Hill High School. “It was just a big ball of flame.”

Couillard said the fire began in the boiler room months before the school was finished and ready to open in 1975.

His older brothers graduated in the first three classes at Oak Hill, while Armand Couillard graduated a few years later, in 1984. He said he did not have the grades to go to college, so he helped at a cousin’s small dairy farm in Sabattus.


Couillard took a part-time job for two years as a custodian at Oak Hill High School. He was then hired at Bath Iron Works.

News reports show that BIW laid off 3,000 workers between 1990 and 1994. Couillard was among them, in 1992. Next thing Couillard knew, he was back at Oak Hill High School, where he has worked ever since.

He single-handedly takes care of the ball fields at the school, which is not in the job description for most custodians. But when you ask Couillard about it, his eyes light up.

Armand Couillard rakes the baseball diamond last Wednesday at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Couillard is a custodian, but also cares single-handedly for the school’s athletic fields. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“Oh, that’s the best time of the year,” he said. “Nobody bugs me. All I get to listen to is the crows off the big pines, squawking back and forth.”

Couillard said he knows crows prefer one side of the school over the other.

Asked if he is a supervisor, Couillard answers with a quick “no.”


“Just a person,” he said. “I walk the halls. Like wintertime slows down. I mean, I can’t do much outside — unless we deal with that after a snowstorm. The walkways are slippery. I go out, sand them down, throw extra down. If the secretary says, ‘Hey, there’s an overflow in the bathroom,’ it’s like, ‘OK, OK.'”

Couillard said certain cleanups are his least favorite part of the job.

“Oh, God, dealing with the bathroom,” he said.

Couillard said that when he was working third shift, he hated the fall because it was soccer and football season, and when it rained, the boys would leave a mess.

“It’s like: Really? You guys couldn’t leave some of that outside?” he said.

He then added quickly: “They’re kids. And I just dealt with it, just brushed it off.”


The best part of his job? The students and the teachers, he said, pausing as he talks about some of the students and their future.

“They don’t know what’s ahead of them when they get out of here,” Couillard said.

Couillard turned 59 last Thursday, but said he is not thinking about retirement.

“Not yet, not yet,” he said.

But the question gets him thinking about what has become one of his passions: Hiking, which he took up in earnest about eight years ago, at the urging of a friend.

“Katahdin is number one on my list,” he said, adding he has been there many times.


“That’s my favorite. It’s tough,” Couillard said. “Probably the last eight or nine years, I’ve covered 67 4,000-footers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont.”

His reference was to every mountain taller than 4,000 feet in the three states. He said he has scaled New England’s 100 highest peaks. Couillard can also name the trails he has hiked, with a story attached to those he considers especially memorable.

Armand Couillard pulls equipment last Wednesday that he will use to line a baseball diamond at Oak Hill High School in Wales. After almost 32 years as a custodian at the school, Couillard, 59, says he is not ready to retire. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

While Couillard said he hikes year-round, he dials it down in winter, a season that opens the door to snowmobiling, another of his passions. The further north the better.

The Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec. It is bordered by the St. Lawrence River to the north and Chaleur Bay and New Brunswick to the south.

“The northern part of the Gaspé is up by the town, a little town called Matane,” Couillard said. “So, as you get away from the town of Matane, the trails, they go up in the mountains and they come back down. Down next to the St. Lawrence (River), and it’s like, of course, when you’re up on top of the mountain, you can overlook the whole valley. Oh, amazing.”

Displaying his sense of humor, Couillard described one of his first trips to the Gaspé Peninsula: “It was quite an area. It’s different — very, very, very French, that I’ve noticed. When I first heard about the Gaspé, I kept reading up on it, and it’s like: ‘Oh, God, 90% of it is French. Yeah. And it’s like, yeah, my name’s French, but I don’t speak any of it. This is going to be fun.'”


Back at Oak Hill High School, many are getting ready for another weekend of sports, with baseball, softball and lacrosse on the schedule. Time to get the fields in shape.

Couillard is ready for the challenge.

Asked if he likes his job, he said: “It’s an adventure. I would say the nature of the beast. You don’t know what you’re going to walk into any day of the week.”

He pauses, and then quotes a slightly altered line from the movie “Forest Gump”: “It’s like, yep, a big box of chocolates. You just don’t know which one you’re going to grab first.”

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