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‘Taking care of our kids’

South Routt Elementary honors Hal Viele for 29 years of service as janitor

Hal Viele, right, watches music teacher Don Williams lead South Routt Elementary School students in a song paying tribute to Viele, who has retired after 29 years as head custodian at the Yampa school. Yampa residents donated the rock with the plaque bearing an inscription honoring Viele. The monument was dedicated in a ceremony Thursday afternoon. "This sure is a big surprise," Viele said.
Mike Lawrence

Written on stone

The plaque dedicated to Hal Viele, longtime maintenance director at South Routt Elementary School in Yampa, is welded to a rock placed in front of the school. The plaque reads:

"Thank you, Hal Viele, for all your many years of hard work, care, and dedication to this school and its students." - Dedicated 2006

— As temperatures dipped below zero on a frigid Yampa morning several winters ago, classrooms inside South Routt Elementary School stayed warm.

But Hal Viele knew that soon, the classrooms and scores of students could get very cold. Something was wrong with the school’s coal-burning boilers.

“Anytime you have coal, you’ll have rocks in it,” Viele said Thursday, recalling the incident. “I came in to school that morning and saw rocks in the coal. The rocks could get caught in there and shut the boilers down.”



Viele removed the rocks before they got into the machinery and soon had the boilers running smooth, fending off the freezing cold outside.

“Nobody noticed we had any problems until I came up and told them,” Viele said of the incident. “It was a good thing I caught it.”



For that kind of service – fixing problems before they happened – the South Routt School District honored Viele on Thursday during a brief ceremony on the front lawn of South Routt Elementary School in Yampa.

Viele retired at the end of the 2005-06 school year after 29 years of service as a bus driver and head custodian at the elementary school.

“He was here when my oldest daughter began elementary school, and that was 25 years ago,” said Tim Corrigan, president of the South Routt School Board.

“The kids still talk about him, and he doesn’t even work here anymore,” said school librarian Tracy Viele, who is married to Hal’s nephew.

The children certainly talked about Hal Viele at Thursday’s ceremony. As he approached the school’s front lawn, the students waiting for him broke into applause and cheers, standing in a semicircle around the flagpole.

Music teacher Don Williams then led the entire student body in a version of “Red River Valley” adapted to fit the occasion.

“We’re calling it ‘Green Yampa Valley,'” Williams said.

Viele also received a scrapbook with stories and pictures made by students. Most importantly, he witnessed the unveiling of a large rock, with streaks of granite, adorned with a plaque honoring Viele’s service.

Yampa resident Bob Logan donated the rock. Yampa resident Bill Northrop welded the plaque in place.

Hal’s brother, Gary Viele, also was honored for his 18 years of service as an assistant custodian at the school, where he worked four-hour night shifts to help Hal keep an eye on the coal.

“I’d like to thank you both for your dedication, your professionalism, and most of all, for taking care of our kids,” said Kelly Reed, superintendent of the South Routt School District. “To say we’ll miss you is the understatement of all time.”

Hal, who said he plans to spend his winter snowmobiling around Routt County in between trips to Grand Junction, said he wasn’t expecting such a significant ceremony and dedication.

“This sure was a big surprise,” he said.

As the ceremony wound down, a pickup pulled up to the curb.

“Hey Hal, they got a toilet plugged in there,” joked Pie Lombardi, a bus mechanic and head of transportation for the school district. “How about helping out one last time?”


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