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GALLAGHER: Custodian serves school from which she graduated 51 years ago

GALLAGHER: Custodian serves school from which she graduated 51 years ago


DENISON, Iowa | Marge Overhue opens a door and steps onto the gym floor at Broadway Elementary School in Denison.

Overhue, 69, graduated from Denison High School in 1966, in this gymnasium, part of a site she now serves as a custodian.

"I never thought the day I walked off this floor with my diploma I'd be back to clean the place," said Overhue, who joined the two-person custodial staff at this school 12 years ago.

That doesn't mean she'd change anything. Oh no, not by a long shot.

"I love this, it's something new every day," says Overhue, who joins fellow custodian Dave Haase in taking care of the 1936 structure, a three-story vine-covered school that will welcome about 321 fourth- and fifth-graders on Wednesday, the first day of the 2017-18 academic year. "I love being around children."

Overhue, who was raised on a farm near Kiron, Iowa, spent her childhood milking cows, among other chores, noting how cows had to be milked before school each day. As a freshman, she completed those duties before boarding a school bus for nearby Denison, where she joined a class of 125.

She and boyfriend Al Overhue, of nearby Schleswig, Iowa, were engaged on Valentine's Day during Marge's senior year in high school.

"I remember having a family living class during my senior year and our teacher saying to us that we shouldn't get married," Overhue recalls. "I came back the following Monday and told the teacher I had gotten engaged!"

She and Al wed on Aug. 13, 1966, just a couple of months following her high school graduation. The couple resided at Kiron for 18 months before moving to Denison, into a home across the street from this school, which, at the time, served as Denison High School. She and Al have been in that home for 50 years, where they raised two daughters, Denise Almonrode, of Des Moines, and Diane Iversen, of Ankeny, Iowa. The couple are proud grandparents of four.

Al, who worked as a lineman, retired in 2010, ending a 44-year career.

Marge, however, went from raising their children to offering in-home day-care to cleaning the offices of a doctor.

In 2005, a friend suggested she apply to serve the school district as a substitute janitor. Marge walked across the street to the school on Broadway Street, which served as Denison Middle School at the time. She visited with the head custodian for a few minutes and landed the job. She thinks she interviewed at 1:30 in the afternoon and was cleaning a room by about 2 p.m.

The school became Broadway Elementary School in 2008.

Overhue arrives at the school around 6:30 a.m. and vacuums or scrubs floors. When it snows, she and Haase report to the school around 4:30 or 5 a.m. to clear the snow. They remain on-site during the school day and don't leave until 4 p.m.

They spend much of the summer readying the school, its annex and the adjacent gym/art/music wing for a new year. Floors are stripped and waxed as custodians encourage teachers to stay off those floors for a few weeks, at least until about Aug. 7, thus allowing instructors 2 1/2 weeks to prepare their rooms for a new year.

In addition to cleaning, the custodians change air filters, lights and monitor chemical levels in heating and air-conditioning units.

Overhue smiles as parents arrive with their children on Tuesday, a check-in day that no doubt aims to help the first day of school run more smoothly. And that's what Overhue is after, a day where teachers, students and support staff members tackle their roles with enthusiasm as another year of growth commences.

"It's fun watching fourth-graders come in here for the first time," Overhue says. "They're so excited!"

Maybe as excited as the former Marge Baker was when she came her as a freshman from Kiron in the fall of 1962.

When the Denison High School Class of 1966 walked through the school during its 50th reunion last summer, Overhue led the tour. She did the same for the DHS Class of 1967 this summer.

She is often asked if this year might be her last. Overhue, who turns 70 in April, has no designs on retiring. She likes serving her coworkers and students in the school she knows better than any other, Broadway Elementary.

"I love getting up and coming to work," she says. "I'm not ready to retire."


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