Mark and Deb Ward

Mark Ward and his wife Deb, head cook at Malabar, display his retirement cake, inscribed with “Congratulations, Mark. The best is yet to come.”

MANSFIELD -- Mark Ward grumbled all the way to Malabar Intermediate School Wednesday morning until he walked into the cafeteria and was greeted with a standing ovation by two dozen of his co-workers and friends.

Ward, known for one of the greatest senses of humor in Mansfield City Schools, had uncharacteristically grumbled himself into a surprise retirement reception. Leader of the district’s maintenance crew, he will retire at the end of the month after more than 31 years in the district.

On Wednesday he thought he was responding to a water-line break at Malabar.

“So it’s not leaking? There’s no leak? You had me worried,” Ward asked, breaking into a smile after realizing he had been tricked. “I thought we were in for it. I brought my gloves and, well, I brought an attitude.”

Laughter echoed through the cafeteria.

Getting Ward to Malabar was no easy task. The plan had been for Ray Reedy, the district pony mail driver, to stop at Prospect Elementary School, where Ward was working on flower beds, and ask him to lunch. Ward declined, saying he wanted to continue what he was doing.

Reedy called Bob Booth, operations director and Ward’s boss.

“He won’t come,” Reedy said.

“Tell him there’s a water leak at Malabar and we need him,” Booth said.

Reedy returned and told Ward of Booth’s request.

“You guys take care of it,” Ward responded.

Reedy called Booth again.

“Bob, you’re going to have to call him,” he said.

Booth called Ward from the Malabar cafeteria and told him he was needed to help deal with the water leak.

“He’s coming but he didn’t sound very happy,” Booth said as he ended the call. “I think he’s mad at me.”

All was quickly forgiven amid the applause. Ward and Booth exchanged a hug and Ward’s trademark sense of humor quickly returned.

“Share your retirement plans,” urged former superintendent Brian Garverick, now director of alternative learning.

“Well, I won’t be getting up in the middle of the night to plow snow, that’s for sure,” Ward said with a laugh. “No more having to watch the weather forecast and wonder if it’s going to snow tonight.”

Ward complimented his co-workers on the maintenance and custodial staffs.

“Seriously, all of the buildings look good,” he said. “People don’t realize what we do all year long. Summertime is Wow! That’s the time for everyone to pitch in to make sure all of the buildings are ready for the start of school. During winter the job is to make sure everything keeps rolling.”

Attention turned to the table where pizza boxes were opened and the plastic cover over Ward’s retirement cake was removed. Soft drinks were poured.

“Geez, thanks everyone. You didn’t have to do this,” Ward said.

Someone called out the sentiment shared by the entire group.

“You will be missed, Mark.”

Larry Gibbs is a spokesman for Mansfield City Schools.

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