Mr. John’s Memory Will Live On
If there was a collective heart and soul at Riverside Elementary School, John Albert Harris captured it. Mr. John, as he was affectionately known, nurtured that heart for more than 43 years. So on February 4, when he passed away, he left a community grieving. Many have been regaling in the memories Mr. John leaves behind, giving us a glimpse into this great man’s legacy.
Former Riverside student Mike Carper says that in most schools stacking chairs would probably be considered a punishment. Not at Riverside. “Stacking chairs in the cafeteria with Mr. John was a privilege that was earned and coveted. It meant that you got to spend a half-hour with one of the nicest human beings on the planet.” Mike, who started at Riverside the same year it opened, and Mr. Harris’ tenure began, added, “52 years later and I can still hear his voice and see his beautiful smile. He had the magical ability to make each and every one of us feel special. What a gift!”
Mr. John was born in Havre de Grace and was a graduate of Central Consolidated, 1965. He was an Army veteran and worked at Riverside as the head custodian. He left an indelible mark on the thousands of children that came through those doors, looking to build their foundation, all while he weaved his way into each of their hearts.
Eric Siegel had a front-row seat. “The best part of living next to Riverside was spending time shooting hoops with John, the janitor, and watching him smoke anyone on the court,” Eric reflects. “It was always a pleasure to see him, whether it was in school as a kid or around town as an adult. He treated me with respect and as a true friend.”
This seems to be a recurring theme in the massive and heartfelt outpouring of former students turned lifelong friends. Mr. John, as Neil Lauryssens explains, had a way about him, “From the moment he met you, he made you feel special.” Neil would see Mr. John around town through the years and said he’d always have kind words and a huge smile on his face. Neil says he felt lucky to have spent time so much time in his youth working with Mr. John. “He was the first guy to show me what pride in your job looked like. He showed me what it means to believe in yourself and to work hard. He was my mentor. And actually, he showed me how to fold the flag properly.”
Patty Jahn had this to say about Mr. John, “He was more than just a custodian, he was a friend, listener, and a leader. He was a great person who knew everyone by name. He will be greatly missed by this whole community and everyone that loved him. He has touched so many, and we are all the better because of it.”
There is a growing movement, led by Patty and Neil and other former students, to create a memorial on the premises of Riverside to honor Mr. John and his extraordinary legacy of love and kindness. They are working with the school principal and other community members to see the job through.
We will keep you posted on the progress of this endeavor as things unfold.
Please join us Saturday at approximately 1:30 as Mr. John does his final lap around his beloved community. We hope to create a “Line of Love” on the streets and send him off right.
Here is the route for the Line of Love: Coming off Trimble Road, left on Foster Knoll, left on Joppa Farm, right on Stillmeadow, around the bus loop at Riverside, right on Ripplewood, left on Havre Hill, and right on Trimble.