DANVILLE — Custodian "Cut Back" Jack Harrier was known for saving the Danville school district more than $1 million through his efforts to "cut back" on energy consumption at the schools. But his spirited devotion to his job and his co-workers was evident in much less notable ways too.
Like in his mission to get more chairs for the extra students that joined Aubrey Carpenter's math class at South View Middle School. It took him awhile, but he made sure they all matched and matched the color of the chairs already in her classroom.
"A little thing like making sure my chair colors were all the same — he knew that would make me happy," said Carpenter, adding that she knew how much effort that actually took in a large middle school without a lot of extra chairs. "He was sincere, always was smiling, always positive. He knew people, and he knew what was important to people, and he catered to that."
Mr. Harrier, 58, who had worked his way up from custodian to head custodian of the Danville school district recently, died at his home on Wednesday after an illness.
Carpenter said she has been moved by the flurry of emails last week among school district teachers and staff sharing memories and thoughts of Mr. Harrier. She said he was always selfless and dedicated.
"He was this quiet giant. I didn't realize how much he had impacted people. He was amazing," she said. "He affected so many people. We are all kind of taking it really hard."
Mr. Harrier started with the district about nine years ago as a custodian after working in the construction trades for years. He worked as a custodian at South View and Danville High School. At both schools, he made saving energy a priority and encouraged others to do the same.
Carpenter said he would leave little notes in the teachers' lounge or in offices below light switches or printers as reminders to turn off items. She said one teacher shared that he left a lottery ticket on her desk as a reward for remembering energy-saving behaviors. He soon earned the nickname "Cut Back Jack."
In addition to his custodial duties, the district made him its energy education manager, and he led the district into launching a custom-designed energy-saving program that, by late 2007, had saved the district about $400,000 in utility costs.
By 2009, the program had saved the district about $1.2 million in gas and electricity costs. George Schildt, then-buildings-and-grounds-director, credited much of the savings to the efforts of Mr. Harrier, who was spending 20 hours a week managing the energy-savings program and working with teachers and other staff to make sure they were turning off lights, computers, copy machines and other equipment when not in use.
In 2010, Mr. Harrier was one of 20 people in Illinois to win the state's Environment Hero award for energy-conservation efforts and received a plaque from the governor at a ceremony in Springfield.
Later that year, Danville High students, who had secured a grant and purchased a solar array that was installed at the high school, dedicated the array to Mr. Harrier during a ceremony. That day, Mr. Harrier was wearing his Viking maroon hat that read, "Cut Back," and stated that the students' dedication meant more to him than his state award.
Sarah Hall, who graduated from Danville High last year, was one of the students involved with dedicating the solar panels to Mr. Harrier. She said he was always very nice to everybody and always smiling and talked to all the students that day, thanking them.
Just six months ago, Ron Henton, current buildings and grounds director for the district, promoted Mr. Harrier to head custodian for the entire district. "He made it his personal mission to really get to the schools and educate the principals and staff on how to cut back on things," he said.
But aside from his cutbacks, Henton said he was "just a heck of a nice guy, a genuine good guy" who had a great demeanor working with others and was a "go-getter" even when he didn't feel well.
He said there were no "airs" about him and always talked positive about the school district and was concerned about the teachers and the kids.
"He was just Jack," he said. "Jack is going to be sorely missed. We have a pretty big void to fill. It was an honor to meet and know a gentleman of his sort."