SEASIDE — The Seaside Heights-bound children of Cannon Beach will get to know Stanwood Gandy quite well over the coming school year.

Gandy, the disarmingly friendly head custodian of Seaside Heights Elementary, is responsible for two things above all: safety, and maintaining a clean, healthy environment for students and teachers.

“The custodians are the No. 1 safety officers in the building,” Gandy said. “I feel that everyone who’s under that building is in my custody.”

Gandy is wary of emergencies in the making, and points them out at first glance.

“Don’t get me wrong: The tree made of paper going from the floor all the way to the ceiling and coming across looks fantastic. But that’s a fire hazard,” he said. “So it’s our job to say, ‘Let’s work within bounds.’”

No one will be plugging a power strip into another power strip on Gandy’s watch. If you need a longer power strip, he will find one for you, as per his mantra: “I will not get you what you want, but I will get you what you need.”

As head custodian, Gandy serves two masters.

“You have district maintenance on one hand, and the building principal on the other,” Gandy explained. “So sometimes you can get conflicting stories and wants and needs, and it makes for creative-solution finding.”

Seeing the world

Born in Astoria and raised in Warrenton, Gandy entered the U.S. Navy 12 days after graduating from Warrenton High’s class of 1989, signing up before his senior year.

“When you hit those teenage years, living in a small town, I could not wait to leave this area,” he said.

Both his dad and oldest brother were sailors, so Gandy was weaned on stories of adventure, exotic lands and travel. He knew from an early age that he was a good fit for the Navy, which he describes as nothing less than a “seriously eye-opening experience.”

Gandy, who spent four of his six years in the Navy aboard a ship, was stationed in Great Lakes, Ill.; Mare Island and San Diego, Calif.; and Hawaii. He visited Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, and, at one point, he went on a tour of the Persian Gulf.

While home on leave, he met Tami, who became his wife. Although she hails from Astoria and he from Warrenton, the pair had never moved in the same circles.

“I find it rather interesting that I literally traveled halfway around the world to find what I needed in my own backyard,” he mused.

Gandy admitted that when he left the service, he felt somewhat lost. “That transition is really tough.”

A new direction

Then in 1997, through a friend who worked at the Seaside Stop & Go convenience store, Gandy heard about a full-time custodial job with benefits and medical coverage in the Seaside School District. Dan Gaffney, then-principal of Seaside Heights, hired him. And Gandy has been working in one custodial capacity after another for the district ever since.

He has, in fact, worked for every school in the district. In September 2012, he began his third stint as a Seaside Heights custodian.

He describes working with Gaffney, who retired at the end of June, as an “absolutely fantastic experience.”

“For a while there, I joked to people saying that I feel like Don Corleone in ‘The Godfather III’: Every time I get out, Dan Gaffney pulls me back in.”

His steady stream of custodial positions in and around Seaside, coupled with his initial work with the Heights’ staff, is what made Gandy want to buy a house in Seaside and send his children to school in the district.

“I really feel that the educational staff get it,” he said. “Their idea is, kids come first. They understand their needs. They put forth massive amounts of effort, particularly in these tough economic times.”

Gandy views the transition currently underway – in which five Cannon Beach Elementary teachers and 82 students are relocating to the Heights in the wake of Cannon Beach Elementary’s closure – as “controlled chaos.”

“That is the best way to put it,” he said.

In the space of a mere two days immediately after the previous school year ended June 12 – Gandy and others moved five Heights teachers to Gearhart Elementary, shifted five Heights teachers into different classrooms and moved the incoming Cannon Beach teachers’ supplies into the cafeteria. After July 1, once the carpets and classrooms had been cleaned and dried, could the team move the supplies into the newly vacated classrooms.

All told, the epic undertaking enlisted custodians, district maintenance employees, teachers, teaching assistants, buses and bus drivers and personal trucks and trailers to rearrange everything in time.

“We called it ‘The Big Move,’” Gandy said.

Personal matters

Gandy’s 13-year-old son, Logan, will attend Broadway Middle School this year. His 27-year-old niece and adopted daughter, Talena, live in Boston. “I miss her something fierce,” he said.

Thanks to his son’s passion for the Boy Scouts of America, Gandy became involved with the organization several years ago and is scout master of Seaside’s Boy Scout Troop 642, a position he has held since last September, after two years as assistant scout master.

He is also a former executive officer of American Legion Post 99. “I still support the American Legion in any way that I can,” he said.

Custodial life

It is a truth universally acknowledged among custodians that, nine times out of 10, most people won’t notice the work of the custodians.

“It’s not the clean buildings that people notice, it’s the dirty buildings,” Gandy observed. “A custodian once said, ‘Yeah, you know, if we do our jobs right, nobody will notice it, but forget the toilet paper one time....’”

Gandy recalled that when Gaffney hired him, 15 custodians serviced five schools. Now nine custodians service four schools.

“It’s a serious balancing act of trying to get the teachers what they need with the funds we have available,” he said. “Even though monies are short, and we are all well aware of the budget, we always try to be very cautious of those taxpayer dollars, because we’re taxpayers as well.”

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