John Hartley retires after 19 years with school district

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  - John Hartley, building engineer with Cedaroak Park Primary School, stands center among a student peace project. John Hartley’s day begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. It’s just about the same schedule he’s had as a building engineer at Cedaroak Park Primary School for the last 19 years.

While his workday at school is full of monotonous tasks — cleaning routes, minor repairs, lunchtime transitions and playground checks — the job is anything but ordinary.

“I wanted this job because it had benefits and a future,” he said. “But really, I’m here for the kids. Kids are very resilient. They are a lot of fun and you never know what they are going to say or do. They are just a joy to work around. That's the part of the job I'll miss.”

Hartley, 65, will retire Dec. 20. Cedaroak Park hosted a retirement party in his honor on Dec. 12. The Jack-of-all- trades worked at the Oregon City School District before transferring as a building engineer to the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

He was first hired for a short stint at Stafford Primary School. He also spent short periods at Boeckman Creek Primary School and Inza Wood Middle School in Wilsonville before digging in his boots at Cedaroak Park.

Hartley served as the vice president for the local Oregon School Employees Association labor union and served as government relations committee chairman for OSEA.

“I’ve gone to a lot of union meetings and done a lot of lobbying for schools in Salem and Washington, D.C.,” he said.

In his time at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, he has coached volleyball at West Linn High School, Inza Wood and Rosemont Ridge middle schools. He retired from coaching in 2007.

He described his departure from the district as bittersweet.

“I think it'll be emotional,” he said. “I've already got some kids and families trying to negotiate with me to spend two more years until they're gone. ... It’s been an enjoyable ride and I will take a lot memories with me.”

Family man

Hartley was born and raised in Portland. He and his wife reside in Happy Valley and have two daughters, a son and three grandsons. When asked what he plans to do on his first day of retirement, he said: Sleep in.

“I’ve been getting up at 4:30 a.m. for a lot of years, but my body and mind are telling me it’s time," he said. “I’m going to sleep in as long my wife will let me."

Hartley also looks forward to spending more time with his family — such as ski boating with his grandsons — getting back out on the golf course and vacationing with his family. He also plans to write a novel about his life. He started the book 16 years ago, but has written only one chapter.

“My mother was a very good storyteller and I get a lot of storytelling from her,” he said. “I can put it on paper easier. ... I think I’m at a good point in my life to pick it back up.”

Right place, right time

Hartley said his first priority is to ensure Cedaroak Park is a healthy and safe place for children. He said the staff acts as a team and make his job easy. He does, however, have the gift of proximity.

“I have the gift being at the right place at the right time,” he said. “I guess I have a calm demeanor in stressful situations.”

His presence at Cedaroak Park is felt in more places than accidents on the playground and biohazard cleanups in the cafeteria. His impact during the last 19 years has spread to the classrooms and hallways and into the very heart of the school community.

“I have a really good rapport with the kids and their parents,” he said. “I've had parents come up to me and say, ‘You know on my son's first day of middle school something bad happened and you helped him. You told him he was going to be OK and that meant a lot.’"

Over the years, students have given him nicknames. Some students nicknamed him "Walt." He calls those students "Little Walters." Some students call him "Chuck Norris." He, naturally, calls those students "Little Chuck Norrises." Some students have even given him the nickname "Porkchop." He calls those students "Little Ham and Eggs."

As the days wind down toward his retirement, Hartley reflects upon all the nicknames, experiences and lives that he has affected — and those who have affected him. Although he only has one week left of work, he hasn’t settled into retirement just yet.

“I'm trying to slow down, but it’s hard,” he said. “I still have a job to do.”

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