There’s fast, and then there’s Fast Eddie.
When it comes to expediency, longtime East Grand Rapids High School custodian Ed Michalec, better known as “Fast Eddie,” is in a category all his own, his colleagues said.
He’s fast at his job, and, “secondly, I like to get to the buffet real fast,” Michalec said with a laugh, demonstrating his love for a good smorgasbord by taking a huge bite of chicken during his retirement party.
But what’s most remarkable is how quickly Michalec’s smile spreads from his face to those of teachers, students, parents and back again.
“Eddie’s been like a pace car, a positive pace car,” said head custodian Bruce Towne, noting that whether Michalec is setting up for an athletic event, cleaning bathrooms or responding to teachers’ or students’ needs, he is upbeat and positive. That sets the tone, and pace, for everyone around him.
“Eddie would be happy digging a hole,” added Towne. “There’s no job you couldn’t give that guy that he wouldn’t do the best he could at. Man, I’m really going to miss him. Are we ever going to miss him.”
Unexpected Job Duty: Reheating Soup
It was Eddie’s last day on the job after 27 years in the district spent as a custodian. He worked at Wealthy Elementary and East Grand Rapids Middle School for about five years, and at the high school for the past 22. It’s been a labor of love, he said.
“Whatever they need, I smile all the time,” he said. “I help everybody. I take care of the kids, and they are very forgetful. If I get interrupted during my lunch hour, I jump right up and take care of them. No matter how many times I have to warm up my soup, that’s OK. My motto is get the job done.”
But it’s been about much more than just doing a job, Michalec said, looking reflective. It’s about “making people happy.”
Michalec’s ever-present grin and unbeatable enthusiasm may be due to an event that changed the course of his life and gave him a unique perspective.
Job Lesson: Remember the Thank-You Note
At age 21, when he worked at a sawmill, Michalec was stacking 4-by-4s on a truck. The load slid, throwing him off the truck, and the 2,000 pounds of wood fell on top of him. The accident put him into a month-long coma, and he spent eight weeks in the hospital. It took him a year to recover, and left his shoulder was badly damaged. He needed another line of work.
He began working at as a custodian at a private company, but wanted to be in a school, making a difference in children’s lives. He applied for jobs in many Grand Rapids schools, and landed an interview with East Grand Rapids schools, but didn’t get the job.
A friend gave him sage advice: “Take a thank-you letter and give it to them in person.”
He did just that, and the maintenance supervisor at the time told him the next job that came up was his. Two weeks later, Michalec started at Wealthy Elementary school.
Now he plans to spend his retirement years in Baldwin, his hometown, where he likes to be outdoors cutting wood, repairing a 100-year-old barn and caring for his cognitively impaired brother. He also plans to visit his two children and five grandchildren. But first, he’s celebrating by taking an Alaskan cruise with his wife, Gale.
Michalec said he’s ready to pass on the custodial cart.
“I feel there are a lot of other people that could use my job more than I can,” he said.
Around the halls, Michalec is beloved by staff members, students and parents.
“He’s awesome,” said parent Carol Dills. “He’s such a friendly person to have around. He’s always making people laugh. I don’t know what we are going to do without Eddie. He’s such a blessing.”
Chemistry teacher Bill Larson said Michalec “runs around” taking care of everybody.
“It’s the way he interacts with kids,” Larson said. “He’s always smiling, happy and getting them everything they need. He’s always happy. That’s what everyone will miss.”