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South honors custodian Cliff Williams’ memory

Grace Shin, co editor-in-chief

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Custodian Cliff Williams passed away on Sept. 9 in his sleep.

Williams, commonly known as Cliffy, worked at South for 15 years in the Maintenance Department. The school held a memorial in his honor on Sept. 15 in the Lyceum, inviting all of the faculty to join in remembering Williams. Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel spoke at the memorial, recalling Williams’ character and telling stories from his co-workers. Bill Williams, Cliff’s younger brother and co-worker, says his brother was someone with exceptional character.

“He was always opinionated, that’s for sure, and he always enlightened people when he walked in a room,” Bill said. “You just knew it when he was walking down the hallways, you know?”

Cliff’s supervisor, Aneta Mistak, also mentioned his kindness towards everyone, especially the women in the department.

“He […] always gave you compliments [about] how nice you look,” Mistak said. “He even saw when I changed something with my hair or when I put [on] something instead of the uniform. He said ‘Oh, you look so nice today.’ [ All] the women in the department [liked] him a lot because he was always so kind and nice. He always knew what to say.”

Custodian Daisy Demeas says she was welcomed back from her vacation with Cliff greeting her happily.

“He was a kind-hearted person,” Demeas said. “I was on vacation for one week [… and when I came back] he was like, ‘Give me a big hug, Daisy bae!’ as if I was gone forever.”

In a Facebook post custodian Rick Foster wrote after finding out about Cliff passing, he recalled the first time he came to work at South and the positive relationship he formed with Cliff.

“I was admittedly a little nervous about starting my new job in this massive high school,” Foster said. “Cliff was able to ease my nerves, making me feel very welcomed. He showed me the ropes, introduced me to the great people that I work with today and he kept me entertained throughout that first week with his goofy stories and jokes. Cliff was the first person that I grew close with at this job.”

Cliff was also a very thoughtful person, as he would think of the crew members wherever he was, custodian John Holmblad says.

“His last day we worked together, he went out to get food for the [staff] barbecue,” Holmblad said. “He actually brought [some food] back with him […] and he brought it right to me and said, ‘Here, I got you this brat.’  And I was like, ‘No Cliffy, take that home to your brother.’ He said, ‘No, I know you don’t go out there and eat with them. […] It’s for you.’ He was always thinking of others.”

Just as Cliff was attentive towards his co-workers, his co-workers would also think about him as they cleaned the school and would often bring discarded items to put into his locker such as trophies and Cliff bar wrappers.

“[There was a] ‘Third Place Junior Poms 2011’ trophy that they were throwing away and I took it and I was like, ‘Cliffy’s got to have this,’” Holmblad said. “So I threw a piece of construction paper over the bottom line and […] wrote, ‘Custodian of the Year’ and I threw it in his locker for him. […] Any random Cliff Bar wrappers we would find in the hallways, we would tape it to his locker. It’s garbage, don’t get me wrong, but […] he really appreciated those gestures, like we’re thinking of him all the time. There were so many things that made us think of him that we will never be able to let go of.”

Holmblad says that ever since Cliff passed, the department has been sharing memories about him and reminiscing in the moments they created together. One specific memory Holmblad remembers was the department’s habit of teasing Williams for his fervent love for sausage pizza.

“There could be 15 pizzas in our break room and sausage always disappears first […] so whoever would get in there would have to wrap [the sausage pizza] up and stash it in his locker for him and we wouldn’t tell him,” Holmblad said. “So he would get all [angry] and start throwing a fit. ‘I can’t believe you guys,’ [he would say] and as soon as he stomped off, we would tell him, ‘Cliffy, why don’t you look in your locker?’ […] He’d open the locker and there would be like four pieces of pizza. [He would say] ‘Aw, you guys do love me.’”

Mistak’s best memory of Cliff was the special goodnight he would say over the radio whenever she or someone else said they were leaving for the night.

“I was always waiting for Cliff to say good night for me [before I left], it was specific,” Mistak says. “He would say, ‘Grrroooood night.’ It was always fun stuff.”

Because of his childlike and youthful nature, Mistak says it came as a shock for many in the department when they heard about Cliff passing.

“He was like the joker in the department,” Mistak said. “[We …] never realized that he was in this age because he was 65, but when he was coming [to work] every day, he [acted like he] was maybe 40 or 45.”

Bill also says the sudden passing of his brother surprised many in their family as well, which is partly why it was more difficult for him and the family to accept.

“It’s never easy when you don’t know and he just passes away,” Bill said. “I could tell if somebody’s sick or if somebody’s been sick for a while. […] It was a shock to everybody.”

Holmblad also says he was stunned to find that Cliff had passed away because of how strong and healthy he was everyday.

“I was in denial,” Holmblad said. “So when I got the call [about his death], I was like, ‘Cliff who?’ […] I couldn’t believe it. He was [as] strong as an ox. He was 65 and he probably looked better than a lot of 50-year-olds. […] I never thought he’d pass away.”

With his positive, compassionate and considerate personality, Cliff will be dearly missed at South, which Mistak says was a special place for him.

“He [never came] here unhappy [or] sad,” Mistak said. “He never gave us the impression that he doesn’t like this job. I believe this job was like a second home for him.”

CLASSIC CLIFF: (First) Smiling for the camera, custodian Cliff Williams poses for his staff photo. (Second) Crowding around Williams, custodial staff members (left to right) Maya Starakiewicz, Aneta Mistak, Daisy Demeas and Giedre Timinskiene embrace their fellow co-worker. (Third) Showing off their Christmas gear, custodians (left to right) Nicholas Locasio, Demeas, and Williams take a photo during their annual staff Christmas party. Williams passed away on Sept. 9. Photos courtesy of Aneta Mistak and Rick Foster

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The news site of Glenbrook South High School
South honors custodian Cliff Williams’ memory