Menomonee falls custodian Jeff Knodl an unsung hero

Menomonee Falls High School Lead Custodian Jeff Knodl and NOW Reporter Danielle Switalski empty garbage cans during one of three lunch hours at Menomonee Falls High School.

Menomonee Falls High School Lead Custodian Jeff Knodl and NOW Reporter Danielle Switalski empty garbage cans during one of three lunch hours at Menomonee Falls High School. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Oct. 30, 2012

"If only you could walk a mile in my shoes." We've all read it, thought it, and most likely said it, but how many of us have actually tried it?

Every day, each of us wakes up and tackles the day. Some of us head to an office and are inundated with phone call after phone call. Others don a uniform and ready themselves to help those in need.

Though it would be impossible for me to walk a mile in everyone's shoes, I am bringing the adage to life. From sweeping floors to farming, I am taking myself out of my comfort zone and being put to work like never before at businesses around Germantown and Menomonee Falls.

If you could go back to high school for a day, what would you do? Tell an old teacher about your success? Try out for the basketball team? Impart wisdom on other students?

When I went back to high school for a day, I decided to go behind the scenes and stepped into the shoes of one man who ensures that Menomonee Falls High School runs smoothly every day.

The lead day-custodian at the high school is Jeff Knodl. The man spends eight-plus hours in a row on his feet, fixing things around the school campus, helping to schedule employees and managing a building that houses more than 1,200 people any day during the week. That doesn't even include all the community events held at the school on weekends.

By the end of the day, my feet were sore, my back ached and I wanted nothing more than to shower and take a nap.

Knodl does it every day and goes home to 11-year-old twins while keeping a smile on his face. All I could do was grimace in pain.

Teenagers spill, somehow forget to flush toilets and shoot spit balls at each other. I know, because I did that when I was a teenager. Once I even put peanut butter on the railing so people would stick their hands in it. Why did I think that was funny? I have absolutely no idea.

As I embarked on a journey back to high school on a cold and misty Thursday in October, it was payback time for every mess I made and every toilet I forgot to flush. Suddenly, I was the one wiping up spills and cleaning bathrooms.

Day starts early

Knodl began his Thursday at 6 a.m. I didn't get there until 9, which still felt too early.

I quickly learned that to be a custodian means being flexible. For me, a self-proclaimed control freak, this was one of the hardest things to overcome.

As Knodl and I set out to sweep what seemed like endless stairwells, his radio rang, with a voice on the other end requesting immediate assistance. Our original schedule was put on the back burner. A photographer was in need of a ladder on the football field to take a picture of the senior class.

We stopped what we were doing, picked up a ladder and headed outside. My arms immediately started aching.

Knodl never lost his smile, as he waved and said "hi" to everyone we passed in the halls and outside.

Then, it was back to sweeping. I don't even like sweeping my own floor, let alone seven stairwells extending three floors. In between sweeping, we did laundry, cleaned up spills, flushed un-flushed toilets and attempted to fix a paper-cutter. We didn't sit down for a second. By the school lunch hour, my hair was frizzy, and my face was dripping with sweat.

I thought we would get a reprieve as the students filed in for lunch.

Nothing could have prepared me for that hour-and-a-half lunch. It was a zoo as 1,200 students filtered into the cafeteria for three different lunch hours. I felt like I was playing a game of Frogger, weaving in between students with a broom.

We changed more than a dozen garbage cans every lunch period. I was so sore I wanted to curl up underneath a table. Hey, at least the floor was clean. By the end of it, I smelled like old milk and was a bit grossed out.

Meanwhile, Knodl was still smiling. It was amazing.

Takes pride in the school

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That morning, Knodl told me something that stayed with me.

He said the high school is the community's building, and he just works in it. But I think it's more than that to him. As a graduate of Menomonee Falls himself, the school is a second home. One he takes tremendous pride in and it shows in not only the clean product he delivers, but the way he presents himself to everyone he passes in the hallway.

I truly believe the school could not run smoothly without him. It made me feel endless pangs of guilt for the terror I was in school, and a great appreciation for those who work behind the scenes and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

Knodl's philosophy as a custodian is to be seen and not heard, making sure students and faculty know where to find him when they need some help. The faculty relies on him and the students respect him.

That much was obvious in the few hours I spent in his shoes.

I don't think I could do his job justice, but I'm sure glad I was able to try it out for a day.


interaction with employees and students

seeing tangible results after completing a project

different every day

occasionally spend time outside


standing all day

backbreaking work

have to be flexible with your schedule

cleaning up dirty toilets and garbage

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