May 5—Creating a clean environment for school students and staff to learn and work is every custodian's job.
North Allegheny Intermediate School custodian Mike Heiry really knows how to clean up.
He emerged from a field of 10 candidates to win this year's Custodian of the Year title from Cintas, a Cincinnati-based cleaning products and uniform company with 500 facilities in North America.
"I really want to thank everybody here at NAI (North Allegheny Intermediate), because without their help and support, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Heiry, of Shaler, thanked the school's staff, district administrators, the board and his family.
But he was most humbled by the support he receives from students.
"Most of all, I want to thank the students for being part of this family," he said. "NAI is truly a family and as a family, we stick together."
Cintas executive Sean Mulcahey said the number of votes Heiry received — 20% of the more than 70,000 votes cast for the 10 custodians in the running — makes it "clear that Mike is a beloved member of the North Allegheny Intermediate community."
"Whether it's being a role model or providing a safe and healthy environment for students, this contest celebrates the important — and often overlooked — role custodians play in schools," said Mulcahey, the company's marketing manager.
Nearly 800 students congratulated Heiry with a surprise hybrid ceremony held virtually and in the school's auditorium on Tuesday, May 4. Members of the marching band's drum line were on hand for the event and the room was decorated with posters made by student government organizations.
He will receive a $10,000 cash prize from Cintas. He's also eligible to attend a program conducted by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council that teaches cleaning professionals how to deal with biological risks.
The school will get $5,000 in products and services from Cintas and Rubbermaid along with a training and development package valued at $20,000 from the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association.
The other nine finalists in this year's competition will get $1,000 cash price and free tuition to attend a program at the Cleaning Management Institute.
North Allegheny's acting superintendent, Patrick O'Toole, praised Heiry, who has been with the district 4.5 years.
"When people talk about Mike, what keeps coming up is how much he cares about his work, the employees and students in the school community," O'Toole said. "Mike is an example of the many service employees that humbly serve our district each day."
The custodians in the competition also were acknowledged for the role they have played during the pandemic.
"This is an incredible achievement for Mr. Heiry, and we are honored to recognize him as the nation's top custodian," said Marta Aebischer, vice president of marketing for Rubbermaid.
"Year after year, we're completely blown away by the hard work and dedication these men and women put in every day especially this past year, playing a pivot role on the front line of the pandemic," he said.
Here are the 10 finalists for the competition:
Christopher Bowman — Bellflower Elementary School (Mentor, Ohio)
Bobbi Sue Burbey — Wrightstown High School (Wrightstown, Wisc.)
Robert Buster — Westview Elementary School (Northglenn, Colo.)
Francesco (Franco) Catalano — F.E. Peacock Middle School (Itasca, Ill.)
Donna Colello — Ocean Avenue Elementary School (Portland, Maine)
Charles Harris — Warren Technical School (Chamblee, Ga.)
Mike Heiry — North Allegheny Intermediate High School (Wexford, Pa.)
Edward Straub — Blue Ridge Middle School (Greer, S.C.)
Terry Tackett — Benton Elementary School (Benton, Ky.)
John Wheeler — Bishop Moore Catholic High School (Orlando, Fla.)
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, email@example.com or via Twitter .