If you were to stop anyone in the halls at Milford High School and ask them about William Dedman, well, they’d probably look at you funny and say “who?” But, if you asked them about Red, well, you’d better be prepared to sit back and listen for awhile.
Red, sometimes known as William Dedman, is a janitor at Milford High School, but also far more, according to the staff and students there. And Monday, Dec. 4, Red found out just how much more he is to the staff and students when he arrived for work on what just happened to be his 70th birthday.
“This is unreal,” said Red. “Thanks.”
Things definitely didn’t begin as usual for Red on his 70th birthday. Upon arriving at the school to open up and turn on the lights at 6 a.m., Red stumbled into a big sign wishing him a happy birthday. Puzzled, Red went about his business, but found another sign. And another. And another.
"I came in this morning to turn the lights on and saw that sign," said Red. "There was one teacher here, and I went and caught him going around putting signs up all over. This is something that's never happened to me before. I don't know what to say. I didn't know about it. This was a surprise. It just got to me today, and I don't know what to say."
Dubbed "Red Day" at Milford High School, staff and students wore red in honor of the 70-years-young janitor, placed signs around the building, played happy birthday messages on the school closed circuit television system and even sang to him over the intercom. Gifts, cards, cakes and cookies flooded Red's desk in the boiler room, and everywhere he went, students were calling out his name and giving him high-fives.
"I'm getting around pretty good for my age," said Red. "These are good kids and I like to be around them. We've just got good kids, and I wish the levy would have passed, for these kids. They are the ones who need it."
Born on Dec. 4 in 1936, Red said that his life has been one that has always, in some way, involved school. His mother a teacher, Red grew up around teaching and school, and even after going into a career with General Motors, Red found himself back in that familiar environment after retiring.
"I love being around kids," said Red. "I don't want to retire, I want to keep on working as long as I can. I retired from General Motors when the plant closed. I ended up here in 1992, and I got used to these kids and will stay here as long as I can."
Ray Bauer, Milford High School principal, said that the spry and fun-loving janitor has gone well beyond his custodial duties at Milford High.
"People just appreciate the contributions and the giving heart, the servant's heart that Red has for the students and staff of Milford High School," said Bauer. "Red's always been gracious. Any request anyone's ever asked, Red's always made a point of helping, whether that's staff, students or someone from the community coming in. I can't tell you how many people have shared that with me about the willingness of Red to work and help. He's a good ambassador for the school."
Bauer said that Red is known for a great many things, one of which is his dependability. While the party was an all-day event throughout the school, Red was a little late for his own cake cutting. He'd rushed off to help when a report came in of a locked door.
"It's typical of Red, whether we have a locker jam or a spill in the hall or just doing his job in the cafeteria, he's there," said Bauer. "He has the heart of a servant, he's always gracious. There is no griping or grumbling, and that's the constant that's Red."
Red, who earned his name after being born with red hair, proudly sports the name "Red" on both his school-issued uniform and on a headband he wears, and he said that the students will accept no substitutes. A while back, a former principal insisted that his real name be placed on his uniform, but after a student outcry, the name was replaced with "Red" when that principal retired. Bauer said that Red has always gone out of his way to build relationships with students.
"He interacts with students, he goes to games," said Bauer. "He's there after hours, this isn't just a job for Red. This is part of his life. People respond to that. The students enjoy being around him, and he's a good role model, and on a couple of levels. One is a senior citizen still contributing to our school and society. He's also a friend, he asks about the game or play, and kids will invite him and he'll be there. He'll follow up and talk to the students. He's a person who cares about young people, he's a mentor."
Red said that he sometimes worries that teachers will get on him because, while he's cleaning the hallways between classes, students will sometimes yell a greeting at him from the classroom. Sometimes, when he goes out to eat or to buy something from a store, Red says that a parent may walk up to him to thank him for encouraging their child. He said he simply enjoys the work, and wants to try and help the students to grow up to be responsible adults - something he said has become harder in an era where both parents commonly have to work.
"We have some great kids, but I think it should start at home," said Red. "The parents work, and the kids come in late. The parents think their kids are up, I guarantee, but when they come in late, the parents don't know. It starts at home, that's the way it was when I was in school. When you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble at home. I think the parent should be stricter on the kids and give them less. I had to work for things. I had help, my mom and dad was good to me. Still, I had to work. If not, you have no respect."
Be that as it may, at 70, Red may be trying to teach a much younger group respect, but one thing is certain. They may be learning it, but for the kids, Red has long since earned it.