Two long-time Foran High staffers retire

When we speak of individuals being ‘fixtures’ in an organization, there is no question Milford Public School district staffers Peter Lanier and Felix Ruiz quickly come to mind. Both men recently retired from the school district: They each have served the Foran High School community for nearly 30 years.

Lanier, head custodian at Foran, spent his entire 27-year career at the school while Ruiz, the night lead custodian, served the district for 28 years, also entirely at Foran High.

During this time, the men have assisted hundreds of thousands of community members, faculty, parents, and students – and, more recently, the second generations of families they met at the beginning of their careers.

Longtime Milford native Pete Lanier worked at a variety of occupations before beginning his term at Foran. After serving in the U.S. Armed Forces for six years during the Vietnam era as a senior medic in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, he 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, Lanier always had two jobs to help make ends meet. He worked at the Cilco Company and the Raybestos Brakes Corporation. Along with that, he always had small part-time jobs to fill in the ‘gaps.’  

Lanier may be familiar to many Milford residents, due to his wide variety of interests outside of work, as well. 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 an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, Lanier volunteered for the organization for 30 years – helping thousands of youngsters along the way. He also served the region as a devoted volunteer lacrosse coach for decades. Today, he and his wife enjoy walking along the boardwalk at Walnut Beach daily.

As for future plans, Lanier mentions he will continue to work at a part-time job (or two), and is planning to spend some time in Maine to assist his son, Michael, who owns a fishing camp there.

“Life is good,” Lanier said.  “It has been a great journey and there’s more to come.”

Felix Ruiz was born in the Honduras, moving to the United States when he was 20 and putting down roots in West Haven. Felix and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of three children, all young adults now.

Over the years in order to take care of his family, Ruiz also always had two jobs. Earlier in his career, 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 this quiet, kind man 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, Ruiz and his family will be moving to South Carolina to join other family members who are there. One of his children, Frances, is the owner of a juice bar in South Carolina and Ruiz plans to help out at the business and learn more about this new industry. He is also very interested in solar energy and is planning to take some courses in that field to learn more about it.

When asked about their favorite memories of their years at Foran High School, the men were quick to share two poignant stories. For Ruiz, he chuckled as he recounted an event in 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 six to seven feet of snow on the field (and back then it was a grass 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 that took place at the school on the day New York 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 alike. Students were told they would be having a special pep rally for the school and all were required to attend. Once everyone was seated – in walked Derek Jeter – to tell the assembly he was there to honor the hard work John had done in his journey toward recovery.

Lanier remembers working with school administration in helping get the logistics set, including where to park the gigantic Oprah’s Wildest Dreams Bus on the school property and how to keep it secure.  

“It was an incredible day,” Lanier remembered.

Patrick Hayden, facilities supervisor for the Milford Public 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,” Hayden said.