Ted Qualli could have been mistaken for a pop star, judging by the roaring applause and cheers from students when he entered an elementary school in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Qualli, a 66-year-old Air Force vet and janitor at Newtown Elementary School, was selected as the 2017 Janitor of the Year, a contest run by the Cintas Corporation. He was nominated by the school and beat more than 1,200 nominees nationwide.
Qualli, who garnered over 379,000 votes, was awarded with $5,000 cash prize. Students, teachers and parents in a packed auditorium went wild when Qualli was announced the winner on Monday. Kids screamed and waved signs with Qualli’s picture as he made his way to the stage.
“What a surprise. I’m so overwhelmed and I just can’t believe that it happened,” Qualli told the crowd, fighting back tears.
In his honor, Newtown declared May 2 “Ted Qualli Day.”
“He’s the guy that’s unsung. He’s the guy that everybody knows is the go-to person. He’s the guy that keeps the ship afloat,” Newtown Elementary School principal Kevin King told local news station WPVI-TV.
For Qualli, his job as the school’s janitor is so much more than cleaning classrooms. The Air Force veteran talks to students about his service and shows them his old uniform on Veterans Day. He grows plants and gives them to the entire staff and student body each year.
“They just don’t make them that way anymore. He is just absolutely one of the most amazing human beings on this planet,” Kari Lazaro of the Newtown Elementary School’s parent-teacher organization told WPVI-TV.
Qualli also knows the names of every one of the school’s 850 students.
“You got to listen. You listen, everybody has a message that they’re trying to tell you,” Qualli told WPVI-TV.
And the kids, well, they just adore him.
“Mr. Qualli is so awesome. He’s our best janitor; he does everything for our school,” student AJ Levin told WPVI-TV.
“He does all this stuff and he does it with a smile on his face,” student Brooke Lavelle told the local news station.
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