By Joe Potter
In March 1975, a well-equipped Chevrolet Impala cost $4,901, Gerald Ford was president and a gentleman named Ira Crook began working at Zephyrhills High School as a custodian.
In today’s market, that vehicle in pristine condition is worth up to $20,000. Zephyrhills got an even better return on its investment it made by hiring Crook.
More than 100 people recently helped celebrate Crook’s retirement during a party in the commons area of the school.
Crook, 63, a shy, humble man who prefers to work behind the scenes, found himself the center of attention at the party.
He is a unique employee in many ways. Crook is the last school resource personnel who began their career at the former site of Zephyrhills High, now Raymond B. Stewart Middle School. He is sure his starting date is March 15, 1975, but not so sure of the date in May 1975 the new location opened.
“I wish I had wrote the date down,” Crook said.
The new site might not have opened on time without the help of Crook and other employees who carried furniture and equipment into the building.
In 1979, Crook was promoted to assistant plant manager at Zephyrhills High. His 31 years at that position is unsurpassed by any other person in the Pasco County School District.
Crook never aspired to be plant manager. He was happy to work under four plant managers, among whom were Clay Durrett, George Scudder and Mark Steve, and six principals, James E. Davis, Raymond B. Stewart, Larry Robison, James T. Davis, Gerri Painter and Steve Van Gorden. He was happy with his job, which he said fit him the best.
“It’s best to have people in the position they’re best suited for,” Crook said.
He had not figured on working at Zephyrhills High for 35 years when he started in 1975.
“I must be doing a good job because they kept me on all these years,” Crook said.
It is estimated an employee works 72,800 hours over a 35-year career. Crook likely surpassed that mark by thousands of hours. He worked the afternoon and evening shift his entire career.
On many occasions he would be the last person to leave the campus. After all, the band or the football team might be getting back late from an event. It was his responsibility to make sure all the gates and doors were locked and all the lights were turned off
“So I always put in extra time,” Crook said. “You don’t get paid for it, but it’s something that needs to be done.”
He would also help set up the gymnasium for performances by the band or chorus. He made sure the doors and the lighting and the sound system were ready and working.
There were many things Crook did for the school on his days off. He would frequently stop by the school to see if anything was needed during special events.
Crook was not in it for the money. He drew a great sense of personal satisfaction from helping students, coaches, fellow employees, the plant manager and others.
Crook is proud of the way Zephyrhills High looks considering it is 35 years old.
“This looks like a new school,” Crook said.
Crook enrolled in the school district’s delayed retirement plan five years ago. When the five years was up, he had to leave the job. He sounded and acted as if he would have rather stayed on longer, but he acknowledged it probably was time for him to retire so he would have more time to devote to community projects.
One of those is the Neighborhood Care Center in Zephyrhills where he has been a volunteer for several years. He is also involved in Relay For Life and Special Olympics.
His last working day at Zephyrhills High was March 31.
“My first day of retirement is April Fool’s Day,” Crook said. “So what a day to have the first day of retirement.”
That does not mean you will not see Crook around the school. He said he did not know if he would take another full-time job anywhere after retirement, but he does know he is ready, willing and able to help out at Zephyrhills High if he is ever needed.
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