Custodians retire after working half-century at Milford school
MILFORD >> Public school staffers Peter Lanier and Felix Ruiz recently retired after serving Foran High School for decades.
Lanier, head custodian, spent his entire 27-year career at the school, while Ruiz, the night lead custodian, served 28 years at Foran.
The men have helped thousands of community members, faculty, parents and students for two generations.
Longtime city native Peter Lanier served six years during the Vietnam era as a senior medic in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, returned to Milford and settled in to start a family with his wife, Hattie. With four children and many mouths to feed as his family grew, he always had two jobs to help make ends meet. He worked at the Bilco Co. and the Raybestos Brakes Corp. Along with that, he always had small part-time jobs to fill in the “gaps.”
Lanier may be familiar to many residents, because of his interests outside of work. He is up by 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning every day — and his first order of business is to get over to St. Ann’s Church in Devon to straighten up the building for daily Mass.
Also, he volunteered 30 years for the Boy Scouts of America; was a volunteer lacrosse coach for decades. Today, he and his wife enjoy walking along the boardwalk at Walnut Beach daily.
As for future plans, he says he will continue to work a part-time job and is planning to spend some time in Maine to assist his son, Michael, who owns a fishing camp.
“Life is good,” Lanier said. “It has been a great journey and there’s more to come.”
Felix Ruiz was born in Honduras, moving to the United States when he was 20 and putting down roots in West Haven.
He and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of three children, all young adults now. Over the years, he also always had two jobs.
Earlier, he worked in hotel maintenance and held many odd jobs developing a career as a “jack-of-all trades.”
“Family” is a primary focus for him and he was quick to recount his impressions of living in the U.S.
“Looking at my life so far, I can honestly say I am so thankful, I’m a lucky man to be here in the U.S. and to enjoy all that that means,” he said. “I have been blessed, and I have loved this journey so far.”
As for retirement, the family will be moving to South Carolina to join other family members who are there. One child, Frances, owns a juice bar in South Carolina, and he plans to help at the business.
He is also very interested in solar energy and is planning to take some courses in that field.
When asked about their years at Foran High School, the men shared two poignant stories.
6-7 INCHES OF SNOW
For Ruiz, he chuckled as he recounted a story from 1988 during his first year at the school.
“The annual Thanksgiving game was to be held at Foran that year, but the night before the game there was a tremendous snowstorm dumping 6-7 inches of snow on the field.
“I received a call in the wee hours of the morning from (then-Athletic Director) Edna Fraser, who asked me to get to the school and to begin shoveling the field!
“When I arrived, and the other maintenance guys arrived, we began to do just that. Quickly, we realized it was going to be nearly impossible to complete this task, most importantly because there was nowhere to put the shoveled snow.
“Finally, some transport trucks arrived and the field was ultimately cleared.”
And the game went on, as planned.
For Lanier, he remembered the commotion at the school on the day N.Y. Yankees superstar Derek Jeter visited to surprise then-student John Tartaglia.
In the year prior, Tartaglia had suffered the loss of his legs, due to a life-threatening battle with a rare and highly resistant bacterial infection.
The visit had been arranged by TV show host Oprah Winfrey as part of her “Wildest Dreams” series.
News of the impending visit had been kept so secret that only a few people were in the know, and Lanier was shocked with the response by staff and students.
Students were told they would be having a special pep rally and all were required to attend.
Once everyone was seated, in walked Jeter to tell the assembly he was there to honor the hard work Tartaglia had done in his journey toward recovery.
Lanier remembers working with school administration to get the logistics set, including where to park the gigantic Winfrey bus on the school property and keep it secure.
“It was an incredible day,” Lanier recalled.
Patrick Hayden, facilities supervisor for the schools, said he would be hard-pressed to find others in this world as unique and as admired as Lanier and Ruiz.
“Pete Lanier is, without a doubt, one of the hardest working people I know,” Hayden said.
“To think that he does his rounds at St. Ann’s before he starts his full-time job at 7 in the morning — and then does other part-time responsibilities on the side — well it’s hard to imagine — and admirable.
“And, as for Felix, if you look up the word ‘gentleman’ in the dictionary — you’d find the name of ‘Felix Ruiz’ as the definition. A kind, dedicated, hard-working, honest man. I am lucky to have him as a friend.
“We wish Pete and Felix an enjoyable, happy, and restful retirement and thank them for their many, many years of service and dedication. We will miss them.”