Chris Cole is a man who can do just about anything. Growing up on a small farm just south of Vandalia, he learned the value of hard work, how to care for the things he had, and how to stretch resources. Those are important traits for someone in charge of keeping a high school clean and ready for learning at the start of every school day, which— among other things— is exactly what Chris does.
Indespensible to team and community
He’s also in charge of keeping the High School gym looking good. He’s been in his role with VCHS since 2014 and tells me it’s as good a group of people as he’s ever had the opportunity to work with. Vandalia is, in his words, “A really good, tight-knit community.” One where he’s raising three children, a few beef cattle, and a small menagerie of horses, to include a pair of miniature horses his kids enjoy. I ask him if these are the sorts of horses that might test his custodial talents by coming indoors to visit, and he hesitates, looks up for a moment, and says, “Well, yes, I do believe one of them would come right inside the house.”
No doubt, to his oldest daughter’s pure delight. “She’s going into third-grade in the fall here in the district,” he tells me and, like my own 8-year-old daughter, she loves making Rainbow Loom bracelets! He’s also got a rising second-grader and one coming into Pre-K. He’s deservedly proud of them all and, I suspect, they of him. He tells me he thinks of the kids at the school as extended family and says they reciprocate in kind. “Honestly,” he says, “I couldn’t ask for a better place to work or for better co-workers. It’s really like a second family here.” After our conversation, I think about Chris and the role he plays in the education of the community’s children. It’s no small thing to have a school clean and ready every morning for more than 500 students, faculty, and staff, and for them to know— with confidence— that the shine on the floors or the gleam of the sanitized surfaces in the restrooms reflect a kind of pride that we may not often consider, but wouldn’t want to be without.
As Chris and I are chit-chatting about the school community, he tells me what a thrill it is to see the kids succeed, whether it’s an academic thing, a big win on the field, court, or mats, or special recognition of the neighboring OKAW Area Vocational Center. Chris feels very much connected, and when I tell him how much I enjoyed chatting with a couple of the wrestlers earlier, he quickly points out to me that “Hardly ever does a year pass when we don’t wind up in the State Tournament.” I knew about the success of the wrestling program. In another lifetime, as a Pinckneyville Panther, I was a 119 pound victim of it. No, it was that word, ‘we,’ that caught my attention. As with virtually everyone else I’ve met in this school community, Chris sees himself every bit as much a part of #vandalpride as anyone else. And, when I realized that, it was pretty easy to see why those floors shine as brightly as they do.