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School’s out — Custodian retires after 21 years of service at Perryville

Children can brighten a day — for Ronnie Bottoms, being around the kids at Perryville Elementary School for the last 21 years has changed his life. 

“These kids have made a big difference in my life. They’ve helped me as much as I’ve helped them,” Bottoms said, while in his office at the back of the school.

It was a day to celebrate him, with children donning fake mustaches in honor of their favorite custodian, and part of his family stopping by to join the early assembly recognizing him.

Bottoms is married to Magoria; is the father of Ronnie Bottoms Jr., and wife Tracie, and the late Tammy Bottoms; and has three grandkids: Ty, Kalin and Hayden.

In a few short days, on Wednesday, Bottoms will take a final walk around the halls, getting hugs, waves and smiles from students and teachers alike. It might not seem all that different than any other day, except for one thing — it will be his last official day at the school.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com A billboard at the school celebrated Ronnie Bottoms, beloved custodian at Perryville Elementary School. Bottoms retires on Wednesday after 21 years at the school.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
A billboard at the school celebrated Ronnie Bottoms, beloved custodian at Perryville Elementary School. Bottoms retires on Wednesday after 21 years at the school.

“It’s hard leaving here,” he said.

It’s bittersweet — Bottoms said he’s ready to retire, but he’s definitely going to miss being there. He admitted he never thought he would want to work at the job in the first place. Magoria told him to apply for it; she was working at Woodlawn’s preschool at the time and had heard about the opening. 

He was working nights. Prior to that, he had worked at Riffemore Antiques, a convenient food mart, two grocery stores, and a drive-in restaurant.

“I said, ‘You want me to be a janitor?’ And she said, ‘I want you home.’ When she said that, I said, ‘OK,’” Bottoms said, smiling at the exchange. He went in the next day, the last day to apply, and got the job.

It was a career he knew nothing about — “I didn’t have a clue,” but he was resolved to do his best.

And it was a job he came to love.

“I’ve been really blessed to do this,” Bottoms said. “I thank her every day.”

He’s thankful for her, too. The couple met through a mutual friend and has been married for 52 years. 

“We’ve had hard times. We’ve hung in there with God’s help,” he said. “Without God’s help, we would never have made it.” 

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Ronnie Bottoms, beloved Perryville Elementary custodian, retires Wednesday after 21 years at the school. He was surprised on Nov. 22, named Ronnie Bottoms Day at the school. It included a surprise visit from his family. From left, grandson Hayden Bottoms, daughter-in-law Tracie Bottoms, wife Magoria Bottoms, Ronnie Bottoms, son Ronnie Bottoms Jr., sister-in-law Sue Bottoms, and brother Harvey Bottoms.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Ronnie Bottoms, beloved Perryville Elementary custodian, retires Wednesday after 21 years at the school. He was surprised on Nov. 22, named Ronnie Bottoms Day at the school. It included a surprise visit from his family. From left, grandson Hayden Bottoms, daughter-in-law Tracie Bottoms, wife Magoria Bottoms, Ronnie Bottoms, son Ronnie Bottoms Jr., sister-in-law Sue Bottoms, and brother Harvey Bottoms.

His wife retired two years ago. 

For Bottoms, being a custodian wasn’t enough. He also became a bus driver for 16 years, joining students on trips to learn swimming safety and for 10 years of trips to Washington, D.C.

“It’s been more than a janitor job,” he said. “I think I’ve helped.”

For some of the children, Bottoms has become their family and they his. He has helped some of the families through their own losses, just as being around the students has helped him through the loss of his daughter, who died at the age of 16 from complications of cystic fibrosis.

“She lived a great life,” Bottoms said of Tammy, his daughter. As with Bottoms, his children went through Perryville Elementary School. His daughter’s legacy led Bottoms and his son to build a playground for the school in her honor. 

“It was my school. It was my kids’ school,” he said. “There’s so much about this school … I love the kids and the teachers. I thank them for 21 years. It’s been a great experience. I love them all. Seeing their smiling faces — it doesn’t get better. It’s been hard to do this.”

Heartbreaking, even. 

But, despite that, Bottoms said he is looking to the future. He’s planning to enjoy the month of December with his family. Come January, though, he’s going to move on to a new job or hobby — he wouldn’t say anything more than having “a couple of things in mind.” 

While Dec. 1 will mark the school’s first day without him, Bottoms said they won’t get rid of him that easily.

“I’ll be back to visit,” he said and smiled.