The South building’s silent superhero


Rodney Terpstra hard at work in the South building

Kate Roudebush

A gentleman wearing gray jeans and a navy blue t-shirt makes his rounds through the school’s hallways pushing his multi-layer cart stocked with cleaning supplies. His snapback is perched atop his head as a University of Michigan lanyard dangles from his neck. 

   He blends into the scene, going unfairly unnoticed by those passing. What many at West Ottawa fail to recognize, however, is just how noticeable it would be if his job weren’t being done.

   West Ottawa’s halls remain pristine but not because of students’ cleanliness. The South building custodian, Rodney Terpstra, works tirelessly, day after day, to keep every nook and cranny of the building looking orderly. 

   Terpstra remains the South building’s silent superhero. 

   After 28 years in the automotive industry, Terpstra made the switch to janitorial services at West Ottawa High School. “I used to drive a special needs school bus, and then they were cutting my hours, so I applied on Indeed for this position,” he said.

   As the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, West Ottawa administration hurried to make the necessary accommodations for the district. 

   “Finding people who buy into a team approach, care about our school building and the people who use it every day, and have a strong desire to build relationships with students and staff are all reasons why having a day time porter as a consistent part of the team is so important,” said Interim Principal Jake Manning. 

   “Out of a necessity to keep our building extra clean through Covid, we now have prioritized both keeping the buildings thoroughly clean and safe while also fully acknowledging the impact of having this role be held during the day and as a permanent part of the WOHS team,” he said.

   Each morning, Terpstra arrives at the same time as students, but he doesn’t leave until after nearly everyone else in the building has already gone. 

   His days are filled with arduous cleaning and maintaining the school’s appearance. “When I first start, I clean all of the entryways. Then I clean the stairs. Then I do all of the bathrooms and make sure they’re stocked. I do everything twice,” Terpstra said. “At the end of the day, I go around and collect all of those red rags and Betco bottles, I fill them, and I also fill the hand sanitizers.”

   “Some days bathrooms are messier than others, otherwise it’s pretty much the same. I would say every day can be a little different,” he said.

   His attention to detail can be seen throughout the building’s spotless carpets, tidy bathrooms, and regularly emptied trash cans; Terpstra keeps the South building unblemished. 

   Terpstra is overly humble about the work he does; he doesn’t bat an eye to the messy habits of teenagers that litter the school’s grounds. “I like the part of staying busy and trying to keep the school clean,” he said.

   For many, custodial services often go overlooked. When walking down West Ottawa’s halls, everything looks as it should, but this is all thanks to Terpstra.

   “I’ve rarely seen any messes in the bathrooms in my four years at West Ottawa,” Sr. Caden Scholten said.

   Sr. Jaky Orellana has shared similar experiences while at West Ottawa. “The South building always looks so nice. There’s never a mess, and the janitor is incredibly hardworking. The floors are always clean, and the trash is always picked up,” she said.

   Despite his massive impact on West Ottawa, students, and even some staff members, are often unfamiliar with Terpstra and all that he does for the school. “I interact with staff more than I do students,” he said. “I don’t have a problem interacting with them, I just, I don’t know, I kind of stay out of their business I guess,” he said.

  “I’ve had some kind of chit-chat conversations with him, you know; he’s a very personable guy, very friendly,” Instructor Bob Myers said.

   Unfortunately, many students don’t have these kinds of connections with Terpstra. “I have had a couple [students] tell me thank you for what I do,” Terpstra said. “So that helps me to know that I’m on the right track.”

   Terpstra’s work is incredibly appreciated by students and staff members throughout the South building. 

   Secretary Cindy has had the privilege of knowing Terpstra while he’s been employed at West Ottawa. “He is awesome and does a fantastic job. He is always willing to help out wherever we need him to, and he does it with a smile, no matter what it is,” Elzinga said. “We all really appreciate him here at the South building.”

   Similarly, Myers expresses immense gratitude for all of the work that Terpstra does around West Ottawa. “I would say he is probably one of the hardest working people in this school. I never see him not doing his job,” he said. “The only time he stops is during hall passing when he really can’t do his job because he has to get out of the way.”

   West Ottawa’s entryways, hallways, and bathrooms begin and end each and every day spotless. Without Terpstra’s labor and dedication, the school’s reality would be unimaginable.

   Terpstra is dedicated to keeping the South building in its utmost state, and it is important to recognize that hard work. Without his efforts and devotion to the school, it’s hard to say that the South building would be as clean and orderly as it is today.

  While venturing the halls, be sure to extend a simple ‘thank you’ to Terpstra and other faculty members who work incredibly hard to make the school what it is. Their commitment to West Ottawa keeps the school clean and the students healthy, and that is a tremendous gift.