Mr. Felix loves working at St. Leo ‘because of the kids’
More than a maintenance man, Mr. Felix is a friend and good listener to students and teachers at St. Leo School. Felix Maxberry, 59, has been at St. Leo for 16 years – “17 years in July,” he says with pride. And when he’s asked why so long, he says, “It’s the kids. It’s the kids. I love the kids.” The students regularly show their “Mr. Felix” how much they appreciate him too. Posters taped to the door of his maintenance office, made by second-graders, wished him a “Happy Birthday” Jan. 4. One reminded him, “We love you bunches!” “It makes me feel good,” he says of their kind words. “That’s why I’m still here ... because of the kids.” It wasn’t uncommon for kindergartners and preschoolers to hug his leg in past years. Because of restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus that discourage physical contact, he now has to tell them, “No hugs.” That, he says, is hard. Lunchtime is a highlight of Mr. Felix’s workday because he gets to help serve lunches and lends a hand when students need him to open a straw or a milk carton. “I have learned some kids how to tie shoes,” he says. And when he sees their shoelaces untied – especially when they’re walking up or down stairs – he tells them. He doesn’t want them to trip and fall, and he says, fortunately, no one has. In addition to his responsibilities at the school, Mr. Felix does the maintenance work at St. Leo Catholic Church. He worked at Taylor Manor Nursing Home for 21 years before coming to St. Leo, where he cleaned in the evenings prior to becoming a fulltime employee there. Felix Maxberry, born and raised in Versailles, says his dad William Maxberry, the farm manager of the Hardin Field farm on U. S. 60 for more than two decades, passed along the importance of being respectful to others and a strong work ethic to him. “We raised 26 acres of tobacco every year. I couldn’t start school until we got all the tobacco in,” he remembers. “... I really miss him,” he says of his dad. “... everything that he taught me ... He could still be teaching me more ...” Working alongside his dad on a farm helped prepare him for how he earns a living today. “Farm work,” he says, “you learn how to do a little bit of everything – maintenance-wise.” Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Felix says his dad taught him how to listen. Because students and teachers know Mr. Felix will always listen to them, they’ll stop him in a hallway or classroom – often while he’s sweeping a floor. Art and music teacher Rosie Fedorchuk says when she needs to talk to someone about “my crazy day,” Mr. Felix will stop whatever he’s doing to listen. “He just listens and supports,” she says. “... He’s a gem to this school ...” When he’s not listening, Mr. Felix is often encouraging students to make good decisions so they won’t get into trouble. “Mr. Felix is a role model of service and humility to our school, and he brings that to the kids,” says Fedorchuk. She says his hard work and pride in keeping the building well-maintained teaches students about the value of being responsible. Mr. Felix sometimes sees former students at the grocery store or elsewhere in town. He may not know their names when they call out to him, “Mr. Felix,” but says, “I know they’re from St. Leo,” when he sees their faces again. Having a male role model who’s also African-American is a valuable cultural experience for students, says Fedorchuk. As she spoke, fourth-grader Elaena Bennett, like other students often do, walked up to Mr. Felix “because he’ll stop and listen.” Mr. Felix says his transition from working in nursing home to working in a school was easy because older adults and young children are more alike than people may think. “I heard some good stories from the older folks,” he says. “Now whether they were true or not, I don’t know,” laughter following his words. One of his vivid memories from more than two decades at Taylor Manor was the day a man delivering oxygen tanks returned to his van. “He got in his vehicle, turned the key over and the van exploded,” remembers Mr. Felix, who was washing exterior windows at the time of the explosion. He says the spark from starting the engine ignited a tank that was leaking oxygen. “Both of his shoes melted ... His hair was all on fire. His clothes were on fire. And I told him to drop and roll,” he says. Mr. Felix cleaned the old St. Leo School building (where the new Versailles Police Station is now located) before the move to a new school on the St. Leo Catholic Church campus along Huntertown Road. “This new facility has really helped St. Leo a lot,” says Mr. Felix. He acknowledges there’s more building to maintain, but doesn’t miss the old school and takes a lot of pride in making sure his floors are clean – and shine. Mr. Felix says last April he had open-heart surgery, so now he takes better care of himself and, because he has diabetes, keeps his blood sugar levels in check. “I was real scared coming back to work with this COVID,” says Mr. Felix, who’s had both of his vaccine shots. He says with healthy at school changes like everyone wearing a mask, he’s “very comfortable” being back in school with students and teachers. Mr. Felix doesn’t have any children of his own, but says he helped raise his step-daughter’s son, Demarcus Mulder. And he gets to see his step-grandson, Josiah McKee, a sixth-grader at St. Leo, every day at lunch. Sometimes, when Josiah needs a ride home at the end of the school day, he’ll help his grandpa finish his day’s work or just hangout with the man, who taught him “to never give up and to always be yourself.” Asked about retirement, Mr. Felix says, “62. I’m going to try my best,” his laughter echoing his words of optimism about life without work.