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6/7/2017 9:22:00 AM
Humble maintenance man a hero to St. Clare students
Ed Langlois/Catholic SentinelThird-graders at St. Clare School in Portland gather around John McCracken, the beloved maintenance supervisor.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Third-graders at St. Clare School in Portland gather around John McCracken, the beloved maintenance supervisor.

Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

It’s lunchtime at St. Clare School in Southwest Portland and a flock of chattering third-graders has gathered around their custodian. They want to testify about how much they love him.

“He’s funny.”

“He cleans up when we make a big mess.”

“He’s amazing.”

A few minutes later, his wife of 39 years calls him “pure of heart.”

John McCracken, 62-year-old maintenance supervisor at St. Clare Parish, would rather not be the center of attention. That’s one of the reasons people like him so much.

“John is more than our facilities manager. He is one of the family. He truly cares about and enjoys our students, and they adore him. He is one in a million,” says Debbi Monahan, principal of St. Clare School.

McCracken, steady of personality, does not let praise go to his head. “I try not to get excited about every situation,” he says in his typical cheery understated way.

After three decades working in canneries, the Eugene native took the job at St. Clare 15 years ago and considers it a solid, human-centered place to work, where employees tend to stay a long time.

Not that he can laze around. He’s in charge of four large buildings from the 1940s and 1950s, meaning he’s adept at breathing life into old machinery. He’s also skilled at knowing when to update and stay within a budget.
McCracken has good relationships with alumni and parents in the trades, meaning he can hire builders, plumbers and electricians with a personal connection to the school. That means the work is of the best quality.

One day, McCracken wore a Hawaiian shirt to work. The students were so enthralled that he went out and bought a few more from thrift stores. He has become a collector, wearing flowery short sleeves daily.

“It’s like I’m always on vacation,” he says.

One Halloween, the entire staff dressed like McCracken — shorts, conservative glasses, hallmark Hawaiian shirt.
Each year at the school auction, families can bid for their son or daughter to be McCracken’s assistant for a day. McCracken gives the winner a Hawaiian shirt, a tool kit, cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk. He also gives them a behind-the-scenes tour of the buildings.

“They love the attic,” says McCracken, who allows his young charge to call a message down through the air ducts, a mysterious voice piped to classmates.

“Kids keep you young,” McCracken explains.

Five years ago, he was laid up after heart surgery and students sent him something in the mail every week. He’s never forgotten.

His least favorite part of the job is waiting in the City of Portland building office for a permit to clear. It takes him away from the school and the kids.

McCracken’s wife, DeWana, has retired from more than 30 years of teaching in Tigard public schools. They met while enrolled at Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande.

DeWana now volunteers regularly in the St. Clare kitchen. They have a granddaughter enrolled in the St. Clare preschool and love seeing her.  DeWana also is glad to see her husband through much of the day.

“With John, there is lots of dependability,” she says. “And he is the kindest person.”


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