PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- The dedication of Bologna Elementary School’s night custodian, George, is not lost on the school staff. Though he has been battling leukemia for more than a decade, he continues to come to work every day and always with a smile on his face.
“One day we just happened to have a moment together in the workroom and I asked him how he was doing that day and he said he wasn’t feeling too well,” said Principal Padilla.
“He doesn’t call in sick,” said Mr. Oshita, the second teacher who nominated George. “He just does it because he knows it needs to be done and it’s important to us. Then his bone spurs came about this year, really made his life a lot more difficult. Wow. I just have a lot of respect for him after learning that, more than how hard the job already is on its own.”
“He is the epitome of a person with integrity,” said Padilla. “A person who is a hard worker. He is absolutely an inspiration to us.”
“So, this is really the calm before the storm,” said 3TV’s Nicole Crites, in the school’s empty multi-purpose room. “Soon, 600 kids will be filling this cafeteria, ready to surprise their school janitor.”
While the kids filed in the room, each holding a fan with a picture of George, Principal Padilla guided George behind the stage curtain. She kept him so distracted with school business that he didn’t notice all the kids sitting out in the audience when the curtain was drawn back.
“Surprise!” the kids shouted, while waving their ‘George’ fans.
A big smile crossed his face as he jumped a little from being surprised.
“Hi, I’m Nicole Crites with AZ Family Surprise Squad,” said Crites, making her way to join George on stage. “Were you a little surprised there, George?”
“Oh, yeah,” laughed George. “I was like ‘what’s going on?’ For real, I’m surprised!”
“A little surprised,” said Crites. "I understand that you have a big retirement coming up.”
“Oh, yes,” said George.
His wife, Ruth then walked up and joined them on stage, surprising George again.
“Everybody said it’s just such an honor to have you working the halls here and being such an important part of the family here, so we wanted to honor you,” said Crites. “Our friends at The Keg Steakhouse and Bar have a $200 gift certificate for you guys. They have four locations across the Valley and wanted you to have a nice night out on them to kick back and relax. Happy retirement to you.”
“Thank you, a lot,” said George.
“There’s been some hardships in recent years,” said Crites.
“I’ve had leukemia now, for about 14 years,” said George. Leukemia, and I worked through that. The doctors told me in two years I would have been dead but now the medicine that I take, is keeping me alive at least, you know.”
“You were able to work through all this,” said Crites.
“Oh, yes,” said George.
“What’s your prognosis now?” asked Crites. “You on chemotherapy now?”
“Pills,” said Ruth, George’s wife.
“Chemo pills every day,” said George. “I take chemo pills every day.”
“Those pills are kind of pricey, right,” said Crites.
“Oh, yeah, very expensive,” said George.
“So, there’s a financial hardship and then you also had some other complications with some pain with bone spurs,” said Crites.
“In January I got a bone spur in my heel,” said George. “That’s why I’m limping around.”
“You’ve had some hardships obviously,” said Crites. “You’ve been an inspiration to students and the faculty here at school and at Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad, we want to give you something, even a little more.”
“Oh, wow!” said George, after opening a small box. “Thank you!”
Crites walked over to the microphone and addressed the audience.
“Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad and the Valley Toyota Dealers have gifted him with $3,000 towards his medical expenses,” said Crites.
The audience erupted into cheers.
“You really surprised me today,” George said to the crowd. "I thank you, kids, I thank you. Bye-bye!”
“I’m going to miss it,” said George. “I’m going to miss coming here.”
“He loves it,” said Ruth. “He’s going to miss coming to school, the kids.”
“Thank you very much,” said George. “I didn’t know this was going to happen to me, this way. I’m surprised. I can’t get over it.”
Thanks to Bologna Elementary School and The Keg Steakhouse and Bar for helping with this surprise.
Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad is sponsored by your Valley Toyota Dealers.