Wylie Elementary School Custodian Rich Wines has a saying that drives his own work ethic and his fellow support staff in Dexter Community Schools. “What’s good for the kids is good for everybody.” For Wines, that philosophy has helped him work even harder for the kids each and every day, knowing they are the future and deserve a school system that runs smoothly under the hood.
For the past 14 years, Wines has worked for Dexter Community Schools in the custodial maintenance and grounds department. Wines primarily works out of the Wylie Elementary School building, but he also readily helps out wherever he is needed in the district, even filling in for staff in the lunchroom, to maintain an efficient and positive learning environment for the children. Wines said he’s basically a jack-of-all-trades, and that every day is a different experience.
“Well, I do a little bit of everything. Every day is different,” Wines said in an interview with We Love Dexter staff Jan. 29 . “Some days we’re plowing snow, some days we’re fixing heaters and other days we’re setting up events. We move chairs, tables and all kinds of stuff from every building every day to get the events going … We’re traveling all of the time. We have people here virtually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week working on stuff, moving stuff around, cleaning stuff and taking care of things.”
Wines emphasized that the teachers and support staff in Dexter Community Schools work extremely well together with a common goal of working to better the lives of students. Many of the support staff and teachers come in on weekends and during the summer months to make sure the schools are ready for the kids whenever the school bell rings.
Wines is quick to give credit to his fellow educational support personnel, or ESP, in the district who work with him to keep things operating like a Swiss watch.
“We’re the support group for the children of this school district. The 140 people in the support group are every bit as important as I am, and that whole group is one reason why Dexter schools run so smoothly and gets things done,” Wines said. “I would say that’s why I love Dexter and my job because of the people I work with. It all has to do with making sure the kids are safe, they get what they need in school and they get a good education. I’ve always promoted that the job is the kids and it’s not about anybody else in the schools.”
Wines said he thinks of the schools’ support staff as the first people to come at dawn each day and the last to leave the school grounds after ensuring that the children have what they need.
Wines said the kids absolutely appreciate what he and the support staff do for them daily. He works with third and fourth-graders in Wylie.
“I think it’s the best age group there is,” Wines said. “It’s like going to a birthday party every day for me. It’s always fun. The kids make the job.”
The children in Wylie know Wines as Mr. Rich. When he began managing the community pool years ago next door to the school, Wines said he made an effort to get to know the kids on the swim team who started calling him Rich. Once those students got older and came to Wylie as students, they called him by his first name and he told them they couldn’t do that, but they could call him Mr. Rich instead. The name stuck.
“When the third-graders come, the fourth-graders say, ‘No, that’s not Mr. Wines, that’s Mr. Rich,'” he said.
Some of Wines’ colleagues even call him Mr. Rich.
Wines is also the head of the district’s educational support staff union, the Dexter Educational Support Personnel Association, or DESPA, which belongs to the Michigan Education Association. The district’s support staff is comprised of non-teaching positions including secretaries, maintenance people, custodians, paraeducators and kitchen staff.
“I wouldn’t be here today sitting here in this interview without the support staff that I’ve worked with,” Wines said. “They make me the person that I am today in the schools. When I see somebody do something good with a kid and do something great in the schools or in the hall, it makes me want to do things better than I’m doing them now.”
“We are charged with the future of our children and we all take that job very seriously, and we are held to higher standards than some people are at their other jobs because it’s very important,” Wines said. “What the children see happen around here molds them for their future.”
Last March, Wines was awarded the 2014 Leon A. Brunner Award, the highest honor given by the ESP Caucus, at the Michigan Education Association conference for his significant contributions to his educational support personnel and exhibiting a great deal of commitment and dedication in working with needs and concerns of his support staff. Wines said he was nominated for both his work as the union leader, as well as the acts of kindness he has provided for children in the district, such as assisting in the aftermath of the 2012 tornado that struck the town.
“So, for the people of Dexter, I won the award because of the things I do with the kids, and that goes back to what’s good for the kids is good for everybody,” Wines said.
Wines said his support staff often go the extra mile to make events special for kids. The first year the ice rink was open, Wines said some groups, upon realizing how popular the rink was, wanted to sell hot chocolate to the children skating. Wines and his staff decided to volunteer their time to serve free hot chocolate to the children. Some even brought their own children to teach them the value of volunteerism and doing good things in the community.
Wines said volunteering is crucial for the success of a smaller community like Dexter.
“There’s always opportunities that we need to take to reach out to the community because, in a small town like Dexter, the schools are the hub of everything. We don’t have a rec department. We don’t have other things that big cities have, so the schools are all those things,” Wines said. “The people that work at the schools realize that and we try and make sure that we can serve everybody in this community and make sure that the children of this community get what they need.”
A few years ago, Wines and a few teachers in the district organized a program to teach children with learning disabilities how to tie fishing flies.
“If they did their schoolwork, they would get to come and tie a fishing fly with us,” Wines said. “We also take one class a year and we tie fishing flies. We donate them to the Dexter parent group that has the dinner and auction every year and they auction the flies off that the kids made. Those are the first things to go every year.”
Each year, teachers and support staff at Wylie Elementary School, located at 3060 Kensington St. in Dexter, host an annual carnival to raise money to use inside the school. Last year, Wines said he cooked 1,000 hot dogs at the carnival, which he said seems to grow bigger and even more successful each year.
One special moment in particular stands out in Wines’ mind as a happy Dexter memory.
“I remember the first year we did that carnival, it was really hot, and I’m cooking these hot dogs and I looked up and there were literally a thousand people from the community out there,” Wines recalled. “Some of them didn’t even have kids in this school; they were from other schools. I looked up and I saw all these people, and they all were having these little mini picnics throughout the yard and I thought, ‘You know, this is what the schools are for and this is what family life should be like.’ So, for a brief three hour period, I thought life was perfect in Dexter right there.”
Wines has been a part of the community for decades. He graduated from Dexter High School in 1976.
“When people say, ‘Are you an outsider or an insider?’ I say, ‘I’m an insider,’ My whole family’s been here for a long time,” he said.
Wines is a carpenter by trade and runs his own handy man business, mainly during the summer months, that he calls The Village Handyman. As a hobby, he fixes and works on antique furniture.
Wines is also a cancer survivor. He has overcome thymoma cancer, which are tumors that form on the surface of the thymus gland, on two different occasions.
Wines said he appreciates how Dexter still retains its small town feel, even though it has grown in size. Back when Wines was a student here, there were less than 1,000 children in the entire school district.
“Change happens pretty much daily around Dexter,” Wines said. “We’re always pushing the envelope to find new and better ways to do things to make the place run more smoothly and to make sure the kids get educated correctly. We’re fortunate to get bonds to remodel and fix things that the parents vote in so we have top of the line stuff. The buildings are constantly changing and the people that work for the schools are constantly changing and striving to give the best that they can for the kids.”
Wines thoughtfully concluded the interview with a thoughtful statement.
“Dexter schools are wonderful schools. The people that work here are great people. Most of the people that work here in the support staff, they make their living doing it, but it’s more than a job,” Wines said. “You come here to make a living and get a job, but once you get involved with it and see what it’s about, how can you not love a place where you’re working with the kids and going to a birthday party every day? It’s just great, and I wish more people could experience it. That’s all I’ve got to say.”