EAGLE GROVE - If it weren't for the kids, Dick Ostercamp wouldn't have half as much fun at work.
A custodian for the Eagle Grove Elementary School, he said it's easy to get the kids involved in the fun. Especially in the Dog Pound in a kindergarten teacher's class.
"These little kids are a glob of clay," he said. "You can mold them however you want to mold them."
-Messenger photo by Sandy Mickelson
Dick Ostercamp, second-shift custodian at Eagle Grove Elementary School, checks the fans helping to dry the just-waxed floors in the middle school side of the building. He said the best part of the job is the interaction with the kids.
Ostercamp said he decided one day to put earphones on Fluffy, the biggest dog in the dog pound. That looked so good, he attached an empty soda can to the dog's paw and posed him.
"The kids went crazy," he said. "They said, 'Did you do that?' and I said, 'Do what? I don't know what you're talking about.' So I started doing different things."
Every three weeks, give or take, something new happened in the Dog Pound - a corner full of stuffed dogs.
At Your Service
A weekly look at area residents who have chosen a life of public service
Position: Custodian, Eagle Grove Elementary School
Town: Eagle Grove
Hours worked: 1:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday or when sporting events occur
How to reach him: (515) 851-2572
He put Fluffy at the art easel and put markers in the paw of all the puppies. At Thanksgiving, he and his wife, Kristi, a custodian at the Robert Blue Middle School, spent three hours making Indian headbands for all dogs. Fluffy wore a Pilgrim hat. After work, they set up a Thanksgiving feast with all the plastic food he could gather from other teachers.
That's what students left in the classroom before the holiday. When they came back from Thanksgiving break, they found turkey bones where the turkey once sat.
"And the kids went crazy," he said.
Near Christmas on a Sunday night, he hung Fluffy and others by fishing line from the ceiling in the main entrance to the elementary school, as if he were flying.
"And the kids went crazy," he said. "The middle school kids asked, 'Why can't we have cool stuff like that in our school?'"
Ostercamp sent Fluffy and other dogs in the pound on a trip, with suitcases opened and filling slowly through the days with dog biscuits, food dishes, water bowls.
"At lunch one day, the dogs and suitcases disappeared," Ostercamp said. "We were going on vacation in Las Vegas at that time, and the first thing I did was get a postcard and wrote 'Fluffy and the gang are having a great time out here in Vegas.' When they came home, the kids found them stretched out all over the floor like they were exhausted and the suitcases were empty."
A few of the children were certain Ostercamp was behind the Dog Pound fun and said they were staying in at recess to watch the Dog Pound to catch him.
"I wanted to put fishline on the paws and move them," Ostercamp said, "but I was afraid that would put them over the edge."
A custodian for four years, Ostercamp played with the Dog Pound in his first year. In his second year, he offered a roaming trophy for the cleanest bathroom in the pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.
"They were having trouble hitting it," he said. "Sometimes something a little special makes a big difference."
He said children should pick up after themselves. Besides, he said, "the kids are closer to the floor than I am. It's easier for them to pick up the stuff."
As time went on, he said, "things got better and better. It made a big difference. They were all doing so great, so how could I sit there and weed out one class?"
So, everybody got apple turnovers instead of one class getting a trophy.
"These kids respect me. I respect them," he said. "In those six pillars of character, my favorite are respect and responsibility. Respect others in school, and pick up after themselves."
Not one to sit around on a couch watching television, Ostercamp is a reserve officer with the Eagle Grove Police Department and a First Responder EMT. Before taking on the custodian job at the elementary school, he owned a tire and auto repair business.
"I just got tired of tires, I guess," he said.
He said the kids often see him over the weekend as a reserve officer, and a few have asked him if he has handcuffs. He'll sometimes pretend to lock the cuffs on the kids. During kindergarten roundup, he fingerprinted almost 100 kids.
"I start the friendship with the kids there," he said. "Then you go from there."
These kids are like grandchildren, he said. "You get them all worked up here, then you send them home to their parents."
Then he laughed, admitting that of all the jobs he's had or has, being custodian at the elementary school is his favorite, even though he one time had to get ready for and take care of a performance in the middle school auditorium, a banquet in the middle school gym and a freshman game in the elementary gym. It's up to him as the second-shift custodian to take care of the building when it's being used at night.
He doesn't mind the work or the amount of work.
"I like being around the kids," he said. "Kids just make you feel younger."
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org