If Tim Breene wasn’t sure what he meant to students and staff at Silver Spur Elementary School after three decades on campus, they made it more than clear Friday.
A steady stream of well-wishers dropped off flowers at a row lined up outside Breene’s custodian room on the Rancho Palos Verdes campus on a day that would provoke tears from some who didn’t want him to go.
“It’s just amazing to know that I have had an impact on these children’s lives,” Breene said. “It’s just so amazing to me to know that.”
Breene, or Mr. Tim as the students and staff know him, will finish his career as the campus caretaker at the end of the school year. Students and teachers spent several days celebrating his 30-plus years of service, rounding out the week with a gift of travel supplies for Breene’s retirement.
Parents and teachers described Breene as an asset to the school, someone willing to go beyond his normal duties as a custodian to look out for the students. He joined in to help at school events, took the time to answer children’s questions and kept an eye out for students struggling on campus, they said.
Retired teacher Gail Warner knew Breene from her 25-year career at Silver Spur. During her tenure, she started a garden on campus, and every so often a gopher or bird would make its way from the vegetation-filled plot into Warner’s classroom.
“Tim was always there to rescue us if we needed help,” she said.
Kelly Toman, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident with a daughter in first grade at Silver Spur and a son who went to the school years ago, said having Breene on campus was a comfort. His son, Matthew, had leukemia when he attended the elementary school. After treatment left him without hair, Breene helped Matthew feel comfortable at school again.
“He had a friend in Tim, because the other kids don’t know how to really react to somebody that’s been sick. Sometimes as adults the same thing happens to us ... you don’t really know what to say,” Toman said.
That was typical of Breene, who made kids in the school’s learning center feel welcome on campus, said Lindsay Lipschutz, a special education teacher.
“He goes way above and beyond the parameter of his job description,” she said. “This is his home and this is his family. It’s more than just a job.”
The tendency to keep an eye out for kids in need of some extra help grew out of Breene’s personal experience as a frequent newcomer on school campuses as a youth, he said.
“I went to multiple schools growing up. I switched around a lot, so a lot of times I was the new kid in school,” he said. “When I got here that’s the kind of children I (looked) for, the ones that maybe don’t seem to have a friend or don’t have anybody to talk to.”
A history enthusiast, Breene plans to travel to historical sites in the U.S., and a few NASCAR tracks, before heading to Ireland, where his family is from, he said.
But he will miss the spontaneity of working with young kids, he said.
“We take so many things for granted when you get old,” he said. “And when you watch the little ones, especially the little ones when they come in, discovering things that we’ve taken for granted, and learning things, and see the progress they make as they grow from kindergarten to fifth grade, that’s going to be hard to leave.”