Georgia Elementary School Throws Surprise Party for Cherished Custodian’s 80th Birthday
"A kid knows if they're loved, and they know that Mr. Haze loves them."
Haze Mabry has been working as a custodian at Pike County Elementary School in Zebulon, Georgia, for 13 years—a tenure older than most of the students there.
So, as "Mr. Haze" approached his 80th birthday last month, students and teachers began planning an extra special surprise for the beloved janitor.
When the day came, more than 750 students, teachers, and staff members lined the halls chanting "Mr. Haze! Mr. Haze!" as Mabry was led on a parade through the school. Children clapped, waved posters, and handed him handmade cards as he walked the hallways he's tended for more than a decade.
"I feel great. You know, all them little kids they call my name, they're giving me cards, they're running up and hugging me. ... It's something else, you know," Mabry told CNN. "It's a lifetime experience."
Reading teacher Lori Gilreath said that they worked on the celebration for weeks, adding that Mabry's schedule—from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day—made it difficult to keep the whole thing under wraps. But the moment Mabry pulled out of the parking lot on the night before his birthday, volunteers snuck into the auditorium and got to work decorating the space with the theme "80 years loved, 80 years blessed." He even got his very own throne!
Gilreath told CNN that Mabry always takes time to talk to the students or pat on the back if they need it.
"A kid knows if they're loved, and they know that Mr. Haze loves them," she said.
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As for Mabry, he said he could retire, but he doesn't want to. He said he likes to keep busy and loves the kids.
"As long as I'm able to work," he told CNN, "I think I'll work."