Riverhead schools' longest-serving employee, 54-year custodian Carl James.

The Riverhead school board said goodbye last week to 11 longtime employees who retire as of today, the last day of the 2013-2014 school year.

The Board of Education saluted the retirees with a coffee-and-cake reception before its last meeting of the year on Tuesday, and presentations during the meeting, where each retiree received a plaque and a proclamation thanking them for their years of service to the district.

Head custodian Carl James, retiring after 54 years on the job, was the district’s longest-serving employee and, at 79, becomes the district’s oldest living retiree, outgoing school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said.

James started his career as a school custodian in February 1960, “when Dwight Eisenhower was president…four African American students began a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in North Carolina” and gas cost 31 cents a gallon, milk cost 49 cents a gallon and you could mail a letter for 4 cents, DeGrasse said.

The years since have brought many changes, she said, but one thing that never changed was James’ dedication, dependability and pride in his work.

Carl and Rose JamesJames attended the school board meeting with his wife of 41 years, Rose, his children, grandchildren and extended family, including members of his church family at First Baptist Church of Riverhead, where he is a longtime deacon.

The Rev Charles Coverdale, pastor at First Baptist, said the church salutes him for his hard work and dedication.

“Carl does what he does well because of who he is, his character, his love for service to children and humanity and, above all, his love for God,” Coverdale said.

James — using crutches due to a spot of gout in his left leg — said his wife has a long “honey-do” list to keep him busy at home.

In addition to the plaque  — which included a group photo of the February 1960 custodial staff — and proclamation, James received a special retirement gift from district officials: his chair, which, they joked, looks like it’s been on the job as long as the head custodian.

“We understand you’ve had this chair for 40 years,” Cotten-DeGrasse said, laughing, as the squeaky-wheeled, duct-taped desk chair was rolled over to James’ seat in the audience. “We’d like you to keep it.”

L.I. CSEA president Nicholas LaMorte attended the school board meeting to present James with an award acknowledging his service. LaMorte, who was a head custodian in Farmingdale for 20 years, said he knows first-hand how hard the job is and thanked James for “being a good union member for all these years.”

Riverhead CSEA president Arlene Chastaine also presented James with a card and a going-away gift from the members of the local unit.

The Board of Education also bid farewell to its president, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, who is retiring from the board after six years of service. Cotten-DeGrasse, a Jamesport resident, was a teacher in Riverhead schools for 30 years and a former president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

Retiring school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse was acknowledged by fellow board members at last week's meeting. Pictured, from left: board vice president Greg Meyer, Cotten-DeGrasse, Sue Koukounas, Kimberly Ligon, Amy Lantz and Christopher Dorr.

Suzanne Arnau, Riverhead Middle School cook, 30 years of service.

Bus driver Gail Edwards, 23 years of service.Rene Garcia, custodian, 10 years of service.Dorothy Grasso, secretary to the superintendent, 14 years of service.Ronald Johns, custodian, 10 years of service.John Luce, custodian, 16 years of service.Eileen Rausch, senior clerk typist, 25 years of service.Wendy Turbush, special education aide, 10 years of service.

Not present but acknowledged at the meeting for their service to the district were math teacher Janice Schumacher, retiring after 29 years of service, and physical therapist Patricia Cajigas, retiring after 28 years.


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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.