RAYMOND – After 30 years of looking after the Raymond Central Public School facilities, Phil Carlson has hung up his key ring.
The day before Thanksgiving was Carlson’s last day of work as director of operations, where he oversaw the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities and grounds that make up the school district.
His last day was a busy one, even though there were no classes scheduled. A couple of inches of snow fell on the area the night before and Carlson was on the job at 3:30 a.m. to get the roads and parking lot in shape for the students who were heading to the high school at 7:45 a.m. for winter sports team pictures.
He put in more than eight hours of work, clocking out for the final time at noon.
Carlson started working for Raymond Central in 1989, after farming and raising feeder pigs in Iowa and working a full-time job at the same time.
“It just became too much,” he said.
He has worked in construction and plumbing while in high school, so when a grounds and maintenance position opened up at Raymond Central, Carlson applied.
During his first two years at Raymond Central, he also studied business at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, attending classes at night. Learning is something Carlson has done all of his life.
“I’ve never been afraid to try something new,” he said.
Carlson was promoted to head custodian after two years. In 1995, he became director of operations. His responsibilities included being in charge of maintenance for all of the school buildings, grounds, athletic fields, buses and other transportation equipment for the district.
He took great pride in taking care of the grounds and buildings of a consolidated school district that includes the communities of Raymond, Ceresco, Valparaiso, Davey and Agnew. There are two elementary centers in Valparaiso and Ceresco and a junior-senior high school building outside of Agnew.
The district was formed in 1967. The federal government donated an abandoned Nike missile site three miles east of Agnew to the school district. The 21-acre location became the junior-senior high school. Existing structures were remodeled and new buildings constructed. The first classes were held there in 1970.
More than 50 years later, some of the old military buildings are still being used, including the school office. During Carlson’s 30 years with the school district, three bond issues were passed to remodel existing structures or build new facilities throughout the district.
“We’ve gotten what’s good for the kids,” he said.
A year after becoming director of operations, the task of overseeing the district’s transportation needs also fell to Carlson. Early on he began using outside sources to do the mechanical work on the buses.
“I would do light maintenance,” he said.
One of the businesses he used was Alternative Service and Repair (ASR) in Davey, owned by Chad Lichtenberg. After retirement, Carlson went to work full-time for the company.
Interaction with the students, staff and patrons of Raymond Central has been the highlight for Carlson during the last 30 years.
“I just like to be around kids,” he said.
Carlson said he will not only miss the students, but also the staff and teachers.
“I made a lot of good friends and I met a lot of nice people that live in the district,” he said.
Even though he was not in front of a classroom conducting lessons, Carlson was still able to demonstrate a solid work ethic and a sense of pride in his job as director of operations.
“I try to tell (the students) that nothing comes for free,” he said. “It takes some hard work.”
Carlson has also interacted with local youth as a coach. He was the junior high boys basketball coach for five years in the early 1990s. For 15 years, he has been a coach for American Legion baseball and girls softball during the summer months. He has also been active with the Valparaiso Area Ball Association for about 20 years.
This summer, Carlson will step back from coaching for the first time in several years and become a spectator.
“I’ll take a year off,” he said. “I’d just like to go down and watch some games.”
But it will only be a short break, as Carlson plans to return to the sidelines.
“I’m not saying I won’t ever coach again,” he said.
Carlson’s wife, Kendra, teaches kindergarten at the Valparaiso Elementary School. The pair married in 1992 and have three children, all who have graduated from Raymond Central.
Tyson, 25, is in medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is married to Ashley Ohnoutka and the couple has a two-year-old son, Braxton. Carlson’s daughter Abigail is 22 and attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, while 18-year-old Erica is a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The school district’s administration had the foresight to hire Carlson’s replacement before he retired, giving him three and one-half months to train Jared Shanahan.
“We worked really well together and I’m very confident he’ll do a wonderful job,” Carlson said of Shanahan.
After 30 years of working 60-plus hours a week, Carlson will enjoy the extra time off he has with a job that only requires him to work 40 hours a week. He’ll keep busy with his hobbies, which include woodworking and refinishing antiques.
And he’ll probably continue to get up early, before the dawn, to start his day, just as he did for the last three decades.
“It’s the most beautiful part of the day,” he said.