BAR HARBOR – On Friday, her last day of work, Jamie Gonzales was still beaming with the honors he’d received two days earlier in a Mount Desert Island High School girls’ basketball game.
“I was so overwhelmed,” Gonzales said. “They didn’t have to do this for me.”
School administrators and teachers, students past and present and generations of parents would all disagree. Gonzales, who retired last week after 44 and a half years as a school guard, deserved this recognition and much more. His caring manners, positive attitude and sense of humor made him loved by all. In the words of former women’s basketball coach and guidance counselor Burt Barker, Gonzales is “clearly an institution at school”.
Gonzales is particularly fond of MDI sports teams. Undeniably, basketball is his favorite. It’s only fitting that during halftime recognition, athletic director Alfred “Bunky” Dow offered Gonzales lifetime access to all MDI high school sporting events and a lifetime pass for all. Eastern Maine basketball tournament games at Bangor Cross Center. Gonzales traditionally takes a vacation during the annual February tournament to attend many games, and not just those involving Trojans.
By his own estimate, Gonzales has helped over 22,000 children attend Mount Desert Island High School. Having no children, he said he considered the students and staff to be his family.
“This job has been a good job,” Gonzales said. “I have never regretted taking it.”
Born in Bar Harbor, Gonzales, who turns 65 on February 22, grew up in the village of Hall Quarry in Mount Desert. He was in the first class to attend the new Mount Desert Island High School for four full years, and graduated in 1969. He took up the guard job in September 1970, initially working shifts.
“Before, we had someone here 24/7,” Gonzales explained. In 1977, maintenance supervisor Earl Moser asked him if he would prefer to work exclusively on the day shift. He didn’t have to think twice. “I said, ‘Oh yeah’. “
During his career, Gonzales has certainly done his part to keep the school clean and safe. But its impact did not stop there.
“He would volunteer at the drop of a hat,” Barker said. “He was always ready to give his time or his money. “
Gonzales funds two scholarships awarded each year to graduates. Less formally, he’s been known to buy lunch for a cash-strapped student.
“You can’t do without lunch,” he told them. As an explanation, he quickly adds: “Money is not everything in life.
Speaking with others about Gonzales, everyone comments on the positive attitude he brings to the job.
“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Barker said.
During this halftime celebration, Dow noted that when asked how his day was going, Gonzales always responded with “excellent or great.”
“My head is almost always up looking at positive things,” Gonzales said.
His sense of humor is equally legendary. He enjoyed playing tricks on staff and students. More than one first-year student fell in love with the quietly “bird calls” he gave at lunchtime. The older students knew it was Gonzales, but the newer students would look for the bird in the cafeteria.
“He thought it was the funniest thing,” Barker said.
Retired, Gonzales said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Ida Mae, and in his woodworking shop making rocking chairs, quilt racks and other items. And he doesn’t turn his back on school; he will replace every now and then and plans to visit often.
“I’ve been here for a long time,” he said. “It’s like home.”